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Bust on I-95 leads to seizure of $238,000 worth of cigarettes

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PHOTO: Greensville County Sheriff's Office

EMPORIA, Va. — Almost 2,000 cartons of cigarettes were seized last week in southern Virginia, as part of a joint investigation.

The Greensville County Sheriff’s Office and Rocky Mount Police Department were working an investigation into the illegal trafficking of cigarettes.

A 2005 Chevrolet Van traveling northbound on Interstate 95 was stopped for a traffic violation. Officers said that a search warrant was obtained for the vehicle, based on information received from the Rocky Mount Police Department, along with numerous indicators of illegal activity inside of the vehicle.

The search warrant lead to the seizure of approximately 1,986 cartons of cigarette’s being trafficked north to be sold illegally.

The driver, Nedall Ahmad Hasan of Rocky Mount, was taken into custody and charged with trafficking over 500 cartons of cigarettes. The crime is a felony in Virginia.

The estimated street value, depending on the manner of which the cartons were sold, is $238,000.

Hasan is being held without bond at Southside Regional Jail.

“This was a successful investigation due to the two agencies ability to gather and communicate accurate and reliable information while striving for one common goal,” Sheriff W. T. Jarratt, Jr. said in a written statement.

Based on 2013 estimates from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives a tractor trailer’s worth of cigarettes (that’s 800 cases, each holding 600 packs of cigarettes) of low-tax Virginia cigarettes in high-tax New York can make $1,944,000.

In 2011, more than 60% of all cigarettes sold in New York were smuggled in from another state, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank. That’s up from about 36% in 2006.

It’s not just happening in New York. Mackinac says 15 states have smuggling rates that top 20%. Add in counterfeit cigarettes from overseas, and ATF estimates the lost government revenue at more than $5 billion a year.

“We’ve had people trading our undercover agents kilos of cocaine for cigarettes,” says Mike Campbell, a spokesman for ATF. “That’s how lucrative it is.”

While Virginia-New York gets most of the attention, Campbell says trafficking rings run cigarettes from many of the low-cost states to most of the high ones. Virginia to California and North Carolina to Michigan are other popular routes.

***reporting from CNN wire contributed to this report***