Eight people, including seven from Akwesasne, are facing federal fraud and money laundering charges in an alleged scheme to smuggle tobacco grown in the United States into Canada, avoiding both U.S. and Canadian taxes.
The charges are the result of an investigation begun in the fall of 2016 into a Rochester-based tobacco broker, who is accused of purchasing rag tobacco grown in North Carolina and selling it to several illegal cigarette manufacturers in Akwesasne, according to complaints filed Aug. 1 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.
Rag tobacco is tobacco that has been processed for manufacture into cigarettes.
Those manufacturers are accused of using the tobacco to manufacture untaxed “rollies” despite lacking the required federal license and of using cars, truck, snowmobiles and boats to smuggle bulk tobacco into Canada, the court documents state.
Charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering are:
- Bernard Perkins of Rochester
- Crymson Aldrich of Akwesasne
- Crystal King of Akwesasne
- Anthony Laughing Jr. of Akwesasne
- Lawrence Mitchell of Akwesasne
- Curtis Thompson of Akwesasne
- Jonathan M. Thompson of Akwesasne
- Joseph N. Thompson of Akwesasne
According to the complaint, Perkins would purchase tobacco through a broker in Miami, then arrange for it to be trucked to warehouses in Akwesasne “oftentimes in obscure locations in the middle of the night,” according to the complaint filed by Erin Briganti, a special agent with criminal investigation branch of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
A truckload on average would contain nearly 32,000 pounds of tobacco valued at roughly $94,000, the complaint said.
Perkins would then meet with some of his co-defendants in various locations in New York, where the buyers would pay for their purchases in cash, the complaint states.
Aldrich and King, individually and jointly, paid Perkins $5.5 million over the course of the investigation, the complaint said. The women would arrange delivery of the tobacco to a cigarette factory and warehouse on the Clete Laughing Road operated by Jonathan and Joseph Thompson and Richard Tarbell and a warehouse on Ransom Road operated by Curtis Thompson. Tarbell died last year.
Although Jonathan Thompson has a license to manufacture cigarettes issued by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, “Licenses issued by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe do not meet federal requirements to manufacture cigarettes,” court documents state. “For a manufacturer located on an Indian Reservation to legally manufacture cigarettes, the manufacturer must first obtain a license from the United States Secretary of Treasury.”
Laughing allegedly paid $190,000 to Perkins for delivery to the former Three Feathers Casino building, the complaint said, adding that Laughing’s father, Anthony Laughing Sr., had paid Perkins more than $1 million for the same service before his death in 2016. The senior Laughing was one of five men charged in 2012 with illegally operating the casino; the charges against him were dismissed.
The complaint also said that Lawrence Mitchell paid Perkins more than $1 million for tobacco deliveries to multiple warehouses in Akwesasne.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Marangola, who is listed as the prosecutor in the case, did not respond to a telephone call seeking comment, nor did the various defense attorneys.