NORWALK - Two men - including a Norwalk resident - were sentenced July 19 to more than two years in prison for defrauding California of more than $1 million in state tobacco excise taxes, state officials announced this week.The two men - Samy Girgis, 60, of Norwalk, and Atif Henan, 59, of Los Angeles - were partners in Classic Wholesale, a licensed tobacco distributorship. U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez sentenced Girgis to 21 months in prison and Henan to 27 months for their roles in the tax fraud scheme. "Every year California loses billions of dollars to tax fraud and illegal operators who make up the underground economy," said Jerome Horton, chairman of the California State Board of Equalization. "These criminals deprive the state of money that could be spent on schools, public safety, hospitals and other essential services." The case against Girgis and Henan was investigated by a task force consisting of the state Board of Equalization, California Attorney's General's office, U.S. Attorney's Office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "We are fighting back by working closely with law enforcement and other agencies to investigate and prosecute criminals as well as sound the alarm about the damage the underground economy is doing to California," said Horton. In 2007, the Board of Equalization estimated that California lost about $90 million in unstamped tobacco excise taxes to contraband distributors, and approximately $120 million in excise taxes for taxed stamped tobacco like cigarettes. State Sen. Curren Price Jr. has introduced legislation that would create a central location for various state officials to share information aimed at investigating, exposing and prosecuting illegal operators. It would also create a hotline for the public to anonymously report illegal tobacco sales.
********** Published: July 26, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 15