After a series of federal raids at five Cecil County liquor stores this summer ("The Rumrunner Diary," Mobtown Beat, Sept. 26), one would expect those who had come to rely on the alleged scheme the raids targeted-smuggling Maryland-taxed booze for resale in New York, where liquor taxes are higher-to go cold turkey. Indeed, in November CP speculated as much, pointing out that a precipitous drop in Cecil County liquor sales this fall-emphasized by the distilled-spirits industry as part of their argument that a recent Maryland booze-tax hike dampened its statewide fortunes-also may be attributable to the raids ("Cecil County liquor store raids may have hurt Maryland booze sales," The News Hole, Nov. 19).
The decades-long scheme, court documents reveal, involved huge quantities of liquor being smuggled on a regular, ongoing basis, and if the raids served as a warning shot, well, perhaps it was taken to heart, putting a big dent in sales.
Apparently, though, New Yorker Luis A. Colon-Bacenet wasn't paying attention to the booze-smuggling news coming out of Cecil County this fall. On Dec. 14, he was charged in Maryland U.S. District Court with wire fraud after he allegedly used a phone in New York to set up a 300-case purchase of Maryland-taxed whiskey from Northside Liquors in Elkton. In consummating the planned purchase, Colon-Bacenet allegedly handed over $115,000 in cash on Dec. 13 to pay for the hooch at Northside-a place that, according to court documents, has been feeding New York smugglers' large appetites for trying to make a buck off the booze-tax differential since at least the early 1990s.
After loading the cases onto his truck and starting to drive toward New York on nearby I-95, "the truck and the defendant were stopped by duly authorized agents and officers," the criminal complaint against Colon-Bacenet reads. He was charged with wire fraud because he allegedly "did transmit and cause to be transmitted signals and sounds by wire in interstate commerce to Maryland" as part of a "scheme to defraud the State and City of New York of taxes due on liquor to be sold" there.
Colon-Bacenet's charges, the complaint continues, resulted from information about the planned sale being shared with law enforcers by one of "a number of confidential informants, who personally participated in the sale of liquor to the smugglers over the past few years." The cooperators "have provided information over the past several months" to investigators in the ongoing probe, which is being conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.