- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A New Jersey man pleaded guilty Tuesday to smuggling nearly 16 million cigarettes he bought from undercover federal agents in Virginia to sell in New York and New Jersey.

Mark A. Frondelli, 48, of Parlin, N.J., admitted as part of a plea agreement in U.S. District Court in Alexandria that he paid more than $2.3 million in cash in 47 separate transactions with undercover agents between November 2007 and August 2008.

Nearly all of the purchases were made in Northern Virginia, though some were made in New Jersey and Maryland.

Frondelli bought untaxed cigarettes from the undercover agents and took them for black-market sale to areas like New York City, where required tax stamps add $4.25 to the price of a pack of cigarettes.

Authorities estimate state and local governments were cheated out of about $2.1 million in tax revenue from the illegal purchases.

Mike Campbell, a spokesman for the Washington field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Fairfax County has become a hot spot for cigarette smugglers. As cigarette taxes have increased in some states, so has the profit opportunity for smugglers.

Mr. Campbell said one recent case involved an offer to pay for contraband cigarettes with a kilogram of cocaine; another case revealed links to Korean organized crime.

Investigations like that of Frondelli can sometimes take several months and multiple purchases, Mr. Campbell said, because investigators are looking to track down others who might be involved in criminal conduct.

“Most every case we investigate doesn’t end with one person,” Mr. Campbell said.

Frondelli is scheduled for sentencing on Aug. 7 and faces up to five years in prison. His lawyer, Christopher Amolsch, said his client accepts full responsibility for his actions.

Last year in Kentucky, a federal judge sentenced a Chicago man to 30 months in prison for smuggling 9 million cigarettes from Kentucky to Chicago and New York.

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