by: Mark Winne Updated:ATLANTA,None —
Channel 2 Action News spoke exclusively to an undercover ATF agent who supplied black-market cigarettes to wholesalers and retailers as part of a four-year investigation into a statewide illegal cigarette trafficking ring that led to five raids across metro Atlanta on Wednesday.
Investigative reporter Mark Winne reported that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, along with the Georgia Department of Revenue and several other local agencies, raided five locations and executed
50 arrest warrants Wednesday in connection with the undercover investigation of retailers who evaded paying millions in taxes on cigarettes.
ATF Agent in Charge for Georgia Scott Sweetow told Winne the illegal trafficking ring resulted in many millions of lost tax revenue for Georgians.
ATF Agent David Brewer sat down with Winne Thursday to discuss his nearly four years working undercover as an illegitimate supplier of black-market cigarettes and cigars with fake or no tax stamps to retailers all the way from Gwinnett County to Macon.
"We made it abundantly clear that they were fake tax stamps," said Brewer.
Brewer said the case was about greed.
"Some of these people that were suspicious of us, greed always won out in the end. The people that kept coming back, greed is the reason why they did so," said the agent.
Brewer said the cigarettes and cigars in an ATF undercover warehouse were props for undercover deals.
He told Winne an undercover partner counted more than a million dollars from six undercover deals at the warehouse on Wednesday.
Defense attorney Manny Arora told Winne he represents four of the arrested retailers. Howard Manchel said he represents one retailer. Both attorneys said their clients are not guilty.
Arora said, "If you can tell a fake tax stamp from a real tax stamp you're quite an expert."
"They're convenience store operators and they're out there and they're doing their best to supply what their customers need," said Manchel.
Authorities said counterfeit cigarettes are not part of this case but they are a huge concern in the black-market cigarette industry in Georgia.
An official with the State Department of Revenue said some of the counterfeit Newport cigarettes in the ATF warehouse are suspected of coming from China.
Brewer told Winne many of the black-market cigarettes in
metro Atlanta nowadays are illegal Chinese counterfeits that may carry health risks beyond even the known deadly dangers of smoking.
A Revenue official cut open some of the cigarettes and showed Winne what appeared to be a small piece of wood in one of them.