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Women accused of profiting from tax-free cigarettes
Newark, N.Y. -- Two Wayne County women said they were just trying to help out family and friends. They admit to traveling to Indian reservations to purchase tax-free cigarettes. Prosecutors said they intended to sell the cigarettes for a profit.
"It's illegal and it's important the law be enforced," said Wayne County District Attorney Rick Healy.
When state police pulled over Amber Jo Mullen and Amanda Houghtaling March 1, they discovered 153 cartons of cigarettes in the vehicle. The cartons did not have a tax stamp, which means they were purchased on the reservation.
In a statement to police obtained by 13WHAM News, Houghtaling admitted buying $2,000 worth of cigarettes from Jan's Smoke Shop, a run she said she made every two weeks.
"I did not get the cigs to make money," she said in a police statement. "I get them for friends and family."
Outside Newark Village Court Wednesday morning, she declined to comment further.
"We cant say anything right now," she stated.
Her police statement to police further contended, "I do not do this because I smoke or to make a profit but because I choose to help when needed."
Prosecutors took issue with that.
"When we recover 42,000 cigarettes from them, it sounds a little ridiculous that they would be selling just to their relatives," said Healy.
Outside the courthouse 13WHAM News found Corey Vitaro smoking cigarettes he purchased from the reservation. He is not connected to this case. He said he makes the trip every two weeks and knows the law limits him to two cartons.
He also said there are other ways to avoid paying the $4.35 per-pack state tax.
"They got people that sell them all over town," he said. "It's just a cheaper way to get cigarettes and a quick way to get money."
Possession of untaxed cigarettes is illegal. Houghtaling was charged with evading the tobacco tax, and possession and transporting unstamped cigarettes. Mullen was charged with possession to sell unauthorized cigarettes. Both women were charged with criminal tax fraud.
"She is innocent until proven guilty, and we'll see how this process plays out," said David Fulvio, Mullen's attorney.
If convicted, the women could be forced to pay the back tax, as well as fines of up to $600 per carton. The fines alone would total more than $91,000.
Healy said he will not plea bargain this case and will seek restitution.
"To me, it's no different than if you steal property from somebody," he said. "You have to pay it back."