Office of the State Treasurer


CONTACT:  Kathy Hennessy
November 3, 2004
(609) 984-7110
Pair Sentenced for Counterfeit Cigarette Smuggling Scheme

 TRENTON -- State Treasurer John E. McCormac today praised the Division of Taxation’s Office of Criminal Investigation, Mansfield Township Police, and the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office for uncovering and prosecuting a $1.9 million counterfeit cigarette smuggling operation that ended with the sentencing of two men to State prison terms.

 Nhi L. Wiget, 47, of South El Monte, Calif. and Kenny Choi, 41, of Pomona, pleaded guilty on March 29 to charges of failure to pay or turnover taxes and to the possession of counterfeit cigarettes. On Friday, Oct. 29, Burlington County Superior Court Judge John Almeida sentenced Wiget to five years in prison for his role in the scheme. Choi was sentenced to three years in prison.

 The two men were also ordered to pay $797,946 in restitution, which represents the amount of lost tax revenue to the State of New Jersey.

 Choi and Wiget, were arrested on Oct. 15, 2003 by Mansfield Police officers working a commercial vehicle inspection detail on Route 206. After discovering a significant quantity of unstamped cigarette packages in the rented box truck the men were traveling in, police contacted Taxation investigators. Following forensic tests at the scene, investigators determined the cigarettes were counterfeit, which means the legitimate trademark holder did not manufacture them. Cigarettes that do not bear the required New Jersey tax stamps are contraband and subject to forfeiture.

 Investigators found 22,750 cartons of unstamped cigarettes in the truck and also seized 10,800 cartons of counterfeit cigarettes at a commercial storage facility in Tabernacle Township. The untaxed cigarettes have a retail value of $1.9 million.

 “This case could not have happened without the teamwork between local and State law enforcement,” said Treasurer McCormac. “This case represents the successful response of law enforcement to the challenge of combating the large scale importation of counterfeit cigarettes.”

 Taxation Division Director Robert Thompson complimented the investigative team lead by Susan Kane, Chief of Operations of the Office of Criminal Investigation, Mansfield Police and the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office for bringing the case to a successful conclusion.

 “This sentencing sends a clear and convincing message to anyone attempting to defraud the State and its taxpayers,” said Thompson. “Tax evasion will be investigated and prosecuted no matter what form it takes.”

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