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Watchdog Group Criticizes ATF For Not Doing Enough to Crack Down on Tobacco Sales Fraud

marlboro_fullBy Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com
WASHINGTON — The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) lacks coordination and is not doing nearly enough to crack down on the fraud involved in the distribution and sales of tobacco that amounts to more $5 billion in lost U.S.  taxes a year and is sometimes linked to terrorism and organized crime, according to a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General.

“ATF has placed a lower priority on its alcohol and tobacco diversion mission area compared with other mission areas involving firearms, arson and explosives,” the report said.

“We found that ATF’s diversion efforts are ad hoc , that ATF personnel we interviewed lacked a clear understanding of the scope of diversion activity across field divisions, and that ATF headquarters does not adequately support the field divisions’ diversion investigations.”

“In addition, we found that no systematic method exists to share intelligence or information specifically about diversion between the field and headquarters, which adds to ATF’s lack of knowledge of the overall level of diversion activity in the nation.”

The tobacco fraud takes on various forms. Some distributors illegally buy cigarettes from low tax states and sell them in higher tax states for bigger profit. Untaxed counterfeit cigarettes, which often come from China and eastern Europe, are also sold for high profit.

The Inspector General report acknowledged that the tobacco diversion crimes usually do not involve violence, but ATF agents said long term investigations in tobacco diversion have sometimes uncovered links to “serious crimes such as terrorism, gun trafficking, or drug trafficking.”

“Nevertheless, the ATF Special Agents and their supervisors who told us that violent crime was ATF’s top priority generally did not include the diversion mission as part of that priority,” the report said.

In response to the report, ATF issued this statement Tuesday:

“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) appreciate the diligence of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for its findings in the report on ATF’s priority with regard to tobacco diversion.

“ATF is committed to the enforcement of the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act (CCTA) which was enacted, in 1978 and amended in 2006, to support state and local law enforcement efforts to stop criminal groups that profit from the transportation of contraband tobacco.”

“ATF continues to perfect criminal investigations involving cigarette diversion and smuggling. ATF has agents nationwide involved in diversion activities, and recently established an Alcohol and Tobacco Diversion Division (ATDD) to implement its comprehensive strategy to combat this criminal activity.”

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Comment from sanantoniosue
Time October 1, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Just a few months ago Tickle did a plum p.r. profile of DC SAC Domench who self servingly stated how much he knew and was doing about Tobacco diversion, et al. This know nothing, who knows not that he knows not, talked and talked about a topic that revealed little more than his inflated ego and severely limited grasp of complex crime. Waxing poetic from his “throne” seems typical of these managerial types who have never supervised a real investigation of anything more than deliquent teens. Add this report to all the other recent independent reports showing that this Agency cannot work with others and has long past its useful bureaucratic existence.

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