HENRICO Co., Va. (WSET) — 43 people were indicted on Friday on 743 separate charges resulting from a year-long investigation into illegal cigarette trafficking, according to police.
19 of the 43 are in custody.
Henrico County Police said it began investigating cigarette trafficking in Henrico County back in 2015 because of a series of violent crimes that were associated with it.
According to police, a number of robberies, shootings, and burglaries happened in direct relation to the illegal trafficking of cigarettes and an investigation eventually developed into a larger regional and multi-state operation.
The investigation incorporated more than 20 agencies including local, state, and federal law enforcement as well as corporate businesses including the FBI, ATF, Homeland Security, IRS, and Virginia and Maryland State Police.
Police said the suspects utilized fraudulent papers to create 29 phony businesses in the Richmond area.
Those businesses were used to purchase a large amount of tax-exempt cigarettes and then they would be transported out of state and resold for a profit.
The investigation encompassed over 600,000 cartons of cigarettes with an estimated value of more than $30 million.
Investigators say the majority of the people are from north Africa and many are not U.S. citizens.
Police say initially 12 to 14 people were allegedly involved in a form of bank fraud called “check kiting,” the process of intentionally writing checks from bank accounts without available money. According to police, the individuals committed fraud at nine Fairfax County banks leading to a loss of $620,000.
The individuals were also allegedly establishing credit via numerous deposits and withdrawals. According to police, they rented cars from rental car companies with debit cards, but withdrew money from bank accounts once the purchase was completed, preventing the companies from collecting the payment.
Authorities later discovered that more than 80 people were linked to the banking fraud. It was also determined that most of them were part of a cigarette tax fraud and smuggling operation conducted from a home in Falls Church, Virginia home.
Police say an investigation into the illegal activity began in Jan. 2015.