For Immediate Release - October 05, 2009

Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office Announces Arraignment of South Hadley Man for Allegedly Not Paying Taxes on Illegally Sold Cigarettes

SPRINGFIELD - Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office announces that a local retailer was arraigned in Hampden Superior Court in connection with knowingly selling cigarettes that were not properly stamped for Massachusetts excise tax, thereby defrauding the Commonwealth of over $150,000 in unpaid taxes. Thomas Lesperance, age 45 , of South Hadley, is charged with Possession/Sale of Cigarettes not Bearing Required Massachusetts Excise Tax Stamp (2 counts), and Tax Evasion. At arraignment, Lesperance entered a plea of not guilty before Judge Brian McDonald and was released on personal recognizance.

In August 2008 , Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General's Office began an investigation after receiving information from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that Lesperance was allegedly selling unstamped cigarette packs from his convenience stores in Chicopee and Springfield. Investigators allege that during the period of September 2007 through January 2009, Lesperance sold packs that did not have the Commonwealth's required excise tax stamp, but instead sold cigarette cartons stamped "SNI", the mark of Seneca Nation - a Native American reservation within New York state.

In order to legally sell cigarettes in Massachusetts, tobacco wholesalers distributing to retailers in the state are obligated to put a stamp/sticker on all packs of cigarettes to demonstrate that the Massachusetts excise tax has been paid. These wholesalers, or "stampers", must purchase these stamps from the Commonwealth, which constitutes the mandated excise tax. When a retailer takes possession of the cigarettes, the stamp is proof that such a tax has been paid. In order to insure that this law is obeyed, retailers have the obligation to only purchase cigarettes from authorized Massachusetts "stampers." The Seneca Nation wholesaler from whom Lesperance bought his cigarettes is not an authorized "stamper." These unstamped cigarettes were essentially available to Lesperance at a discount, since he was not paying the excise tax that should have been paid on these cartons.

Acting upon information received during the course of the investigation, Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General's Office executed search warrants in January 2009 on Lesperance's stores and his residence, with assistance from ATF, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR). Authorities seized a shipment of unstamped cigarettes that were sent to Lesperance from the Seneca Nation. The execution of the warrants, combined with the seizure of the shipments, netted over 20,000 untaxed cigarettes. In total investigators allege that Lesperance knowingly defrauded the Commonwealth of over $150,000 in unpaid cigarette excise taxes.

A Hampden County Grand Jury returned indictments against Lesperance on September 15, 2009. Today, he was arraigned in Springfield Superior Court where he pled not guilty and was released on personal recognizance. He is scheduled to appear in court on December 2, 2009, for a pre-trial conference.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Shea of Attorney General Martha Coakley's Criminal Bureau, and was investigated by Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General's Office. Agent Marc Maurino from ATF, Inspector Gene Griffin from UPSIS, and Tom Nowicki from DOR led the investigation of this case for each of the partnering agencies.

MEDIA CONTACTS FOR COOPERATING AGENCIES :

James McNally (ATF)
(617) 557-1200

Bob Bliss (DOR)
(617) 626-2369

Bernadette Lundbohm (USPIS)
(617) 556-4489

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