Departments will get piece of $2.2M confiscated from untaxed tobacco sales

Last updated: October 22. 2013 11:22PM - 4422 Views
ANDREW M. SEDER aseder@timesleader.com

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Police departments in Pennsylvania and Virginia, including two in Luzerne County, will share in more than $2.2 million forfeited by a Peckville woman in connection with the sale of untaxed smokeless tobacco.

The Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Pocono Mountain Regional, Stroud Area Regional and Hazleton police departments will each receive $257,901.36 as part of the practice known as “equitable sharing,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced on Tuesday.

In addition, the District Attorney’s Office in Lackawanna County will get $82,631.4; the Dunmore Police Department gets $36,843.05 and the Pennsylvania State Police will see $36,843.05. The federal government kept $1,800,538.58 and the Shenandoah, Va., sheriff’s office will receive $847,390.20.

The investigation that led to the forfeited funds focused on the out-of-state sale of untaxed smokeless tobacco by Alhamrah Corp. located at 1028 Reeves St. in Dunmore. The company, located in the Keystone Industrial Park, was a wholesale distributor of convenience-store and smoke-shop items and was raided by federal agents in March 2012.

As a result of the investigation, Aqsa Aslam, of Peckville, a principal in the corporation, was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Scranton and she pleaded guilty to subscribing to a materially false tax return.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo sentenced Aslam to one year of probation on May 1. As part of a plea agreement with the government, Aslam agreed to forfeit cash and bank accounts of Alhamrah totaling $4,093,753.13.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania held a meeting in Scranton on Oct. 9 to discuss using the equitable share mechanism to benefit the police departments and investigative bodies that played a role in the investigation.

IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Akeia Conner said, “Individuals who commit fraud of this magnitude and with this degree of dishonesty and deceit deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law … We, as a group, remain vigilant in identifying, investigating and holding those accountable who defraud the United States Government.”

Other details of the case were not apparent because court documents related to the case have remained sealed.

Hazleton Mayor Joe Yannuzzi said he might have some suggestions for how the funding coming to Hazleton should be used, but he’ll leave the decision making up to Police Chief Frank DeAndrea.

“He has a lot to do in the police department that money could be utilized for,” Yannuzzi said.

Yannuzzi doesn’t think the funding can be used towards police officer salaries and he’s not sure if it can be used to purchase surveillance cameras for placement in the community, although that funding source has not been used to buy cameras in the past.

He noted that the police station’s electrical system needs a back-up generator and pointed out that not all city police officers have a department-issued Taser, so those might be some possible uses.

DeAndrea did not reply to a message sent to his cell phone seeking comment.

Wilkes-Barre spokeswoman Liza Prokop said Mayor Tom Leighton was unavailable to comment Tuesday evening because of a meeting conflict. Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Gerard Dessoye did not respond to a request for comment sent through Prokop.

Times Leader reporter Steve Mocarsky contributed to this story.

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