- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to buying more than $2 million of contraband cigarettes.

Bing Feng Mai of Harrisburg, Pa., entered his guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

Mai, 30, was arrested July 2 after a series of meetings with undercover officers in Northern Virginia, during which he bought 20 million untaxed, unstamped cigarettes.

Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, Mai told District Judge Anthony J. Trenga through a Chinese interpreter that he understood he was waiving his right to appeal his conviction with his plea.

Contraband cigarettes lack required stamps for state and local taxes. In Virginia, the cigarette tax stamp required for each pack costs 30 cents. Law enforcement officials say traffickers pocket money by evading taxes and affixing phony stamps.

Authorities also seized nearly 10 million counterfeit cigarettes Mai kept in a storage facility in Springfield, according to court records. Tests showed that the cigarettes were fake versions of Philip Morris’ Marlboro brand manufactured China.

Mike Campbell, a spokesman for the Washington field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, called the find one of the “largest seizures” of counterfeit cigarettes in the area. Mr. Campbell said counterfeit cigarettes are of special concern because their production is unregulated.

“They are such a health risk,” he said. “We have no idea what goes into counterfeit cigarettes, what chemicals they put in there.”

Between March 11 and June 23, Mai bought contraband cigarettes from undercover agents, authorities said. Unlike the counterfeit, the contraband cigarettes may be legitimately made but lack tax stamps.

In their meetings, Mai provided agents with 60,000 counterfeit Virginia cigarette tax stamps and sold them counterfeit cigarettes. He told the agents on several occasions that if he ever got into “trouble” with police he would move to China, court documents show.

Mai’s sentencing is set for Nov. 13. He faces up to 10 years in prison, fines and restitution.

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