Does "Buttlegging" Fund Terrorism?

By McCarton Ackerman 05/21/13

The NYPD busts a giant cigarette trafficking ring with alleged ties to terrorism.

Are your cigarettes "buttlegged"? Photo via

Sixteen people have been busted in what authorities are calling a "Palestinian cigarette-smuggling ring," and three of them allegedly have ties to terrorists, reports the New York Daily News. The NYPD and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman took down multiple distributors transporting cheap, contraband cigarettes from North Carolina to Virginia, in a massive "buttlegging" operation that made a supposed $22 million over the past 17 months. The lucrative business is "better than selling drugs," one defendant said on tape. The distributors were aided by resellers who sold the contraband cigarettes around New York and accomplices who, instead of turning tax revenue over to the state and city, allegedly funneled the money to terrorists. City Hall estimates that half of the cigarettes sold in NYC are illegal and New York has just about given up on enforcing tax laws, which means hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue have been lost. However, most smokers are still paying the full taxable amount on their cigarette packs—so where does the tax money go? The Daily News has no doubt: It's "flowing unimpeded into a dark underworld...and every time [smokers] light up, they could be pumping money into Hamas. Or Hezbollah. Or Al Qaeda." One of the busted bootleg smugglers reportedly had financial links to Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving life for a plot to blow up city landmarks; another lived in the same building as the main fund-raiser for Hamas; and a third was "a confidant" of the gunman who opened fire on a van of school boys on a Brooklyn Bridge ramp in 1994, killing a student. No wonder Mayor Bloomberg wants cigarettes out of sight.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.