Droga escondida en el pick up. (Foto: Jorge Silot)
News Opinion

ATF protected cigarette smuggling for fund raising may surpass independent smuggling

The curious federal civil lawsuit by US Tobacco Cooperative Inc. against two paid informants alleging the ATF stole $24 million from their 700 farmer- members is another example of how you cannot tell the criminals from the law enforcement agents based solely on their actions.

The only way to know for certain is that the “good” guys get taxpayer-funded salaries.

The ATF case, set for trial in March, may reveal plenty about how the ATF pays informants in the lucrative, colorful and glamorous world of cigarette smuggling.

On the other hand, the case may be settled at the last minute with a gag order forbidding US Tobacco from disclosing what the ATF’s law enforcement techniques cost taxpayers, and keeping the court filings under seal.

The ATF’s role in investigating cigarette “smuggling” is to arrest people who evade state excise taxes in states where they sell cigarettes.

Profits are made by smugglers purchasing cigarettes in states with lower taxes like Virginia, and selling them in higher-tax states like New York.  The smuggler keeps the difference in the excise tax as profit. Some smugglers ship cigarettes to Indian reservations where there is no state tax, then sell them on the black market.

Smugglers usually need to establish networks of accomplices to coordinate and accomplish any kind of large scale smuggling.

Intrepid ATF agents try to disrupt the networks and arrest participants.  Realistically, with schemes requiring many people, the chances of success of large scale smuggling is small. There are simply not enough organic, large scale smugglers to employ ATF agents assigned to tobacco enforcement.


The agents have to work extra hard and create their own crimes. By participating with well paid informants who are allowed by the ATF to illegally buy and sell tobacco on the black market, ATF agents create their own criminal smuggling networks and reap large profits for undercover operations, for paid informants and in the case of rogue agents for themselves.  With a good criminal smuggling network in place, the ATF agents merely need to induce individuals to enter into it, and commit smuggling crimes.

The AFT can boost crimes by setting up deals with phony purchasers and sellers and if necessary funding them.

By maintaining a network of well paid informants, who have access to illegal cigarettes, all an intrepid ATF agent needs to do to boost convictions are to encourage willing, none too bright individuals who agree that it is easy to smuggle and grow rich.

These can be encouraged, if not funded, by ATF.

The statements of the warehouse manager in the US Tobacco case are revealing. He said ATF agents directed him to purchase televisions, Ipads and whatnot to be used as gifts to befriend potential targets (i.e. patsies), to buy or sell illegal cigarettes to an ATF informant.  What better way than to lavish gifts on a fool – maybe some dunce who never had money or friends all his life and get him to trust you while you entrap him into smuggling cigarettes.

In this way, ATF agents can mint new smugglers and advance their careers. The smugglers are sent to prison, the informants continue to sell illegal cigarettes at a profit to keep the network going and the heroic deeds of ATF agents are embellished in press releases and republished by gullible stenographers in the mainstream media.

It would be a rosy world indeed if they weren’t so blatant and inept. For instance, a 2013 Inspector General report said there was a “serious lack of oversight” at the ATF  and paid informants were allowed to reap profits amounting to millions of dollars. The report said ATF agents “misused” $162 million in sting operation profits and “lost track” of $420 million cigarettes.

“Lost track” is a curious way of saying the ATF or their paid informants, sold them illegally. Which suggests that the ATF may foment as many crimes of smuggling than actual organic smugglers. If you count the schmucks they entrap, or encourage to smuggle, ATF protected and coordinated smuggling may surpass organic smuggling.

This is the same ATF that lost 2000 weapons during the Fast and Furious operation when firearms supplied to known criminals were supposed to be tracked by ATF agents to the top tier of drug lords. Instead it resulted in losing track of most of the guns, except for those which surfaced when used in at least 69 killings and 20 mass murders in Mexico and some 179 crime scenes.

No drug lords were arrested.

As general advice to would be cigarette smugglers, making a deal to pay ATF agents a slice of the profits and act as informants is a better way to ensure success in the smuggling business; it seems to be the preferred method for intelligent operators in the glamorous world of cigarette smuggling.



About the author

Frank Parlato


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