Friday, July 09, 2010

A Firable Offense-But For Whom?

In yesterday's NY Post, John Crudele wrote about the state tax department's bizarre move to curtail its extremely successful anti-smuggling effort against buttleggers. The inexplicable move, at precisely the time when the state has further incentivized smuggling by raising the cigarette tax through the roof, was questioned in the paper by Tom Stanton, the head of the enforcement effort: "New York State is so desperate for money it is squeezing one of its few profit centers -- undercover operations against cigarette bootleggers -- so hard that the operation has virtually shut down. "We are totally at a standstill because they've closed down our covert account," an annoyed Tom Stanton, director of tax enforcement for the state, told me. The chief investigator's sting operation has sold $20 million in illegal cigarettes, resulting in 50 arrests. The covert account is used to pay for equipment, compensate informants and for other everyday expenses related to operations that even the state admits are complex and dangerous."

And for his effort on behalf of NY State tax payers, whistle blower Stanton was summarily fired yesterday. The Post has the story: "A top state law-enforcement official responsible for tracking down cigarette bootleggers was abruptly fired by Gov. Paterson's administration yesterday -- just hours after telling The Post that cigarette-tax enforcement was "totally at a standstill." Thomas Stanton, 64, the $128,000-a-year director of enforcement at the Taxation and Finance Department, said he received a call at noon from William Comiskey, deputy commissioner for tax enforcement, telling him he was fired."

What an opportune moment: "Stanton -- whose firing came just days after Paterson OK'd a $1.60-a-pack increase in the already sky-high cigarette-sales tax -- was quoted by Post business columnist John Crudele as saying that the state fiscal crisis had led to a severe cutback in the funding available to fight illegal trafficking in untaxed cigarettes."

But the original Post story was confusing to its readers because it only focused on the interdiction and sting efforts that Stanton has successfully waged-and, in a conversation with us, Stanton told us that almost all of the smugglers he has intercepted have been Arabs-underscoring the potential terrorism links that Congressman Peter King has been yelling about. What the story failed to emphasize, and what Stanton told us directly, was that he believes that his firing is a harbinger of the future failure of this administration to ever enforce the law. Once again, a NY State governor is about to wimp out, and instead of beefing up enforcement he moves to get rid of the one man whose efforts have actually borne fruit-a perfect symbol of how feckless this accidental occupant of the governor's office really is.

But it gets even worse, as Stanton related to us, that there is an effort underway at state tax to allow the law breaking Poospatuck buttleggers to become tax agents of the state-allowing these career criminals to continue to not only undersell all of the legitimate cigarette retailers on Long Island, but to also continue to provide a shadow army of back packing buttleggers to infest the streets of New York with their tobacco contraband. All of this at a time when the governor continues to warn the legislature that we are running out of money.

The governor needs to be called out on this dereliction of his duties to enforce the law. While he continues to issue woof tickets to the legislature-posturing as a fiscal watchdog-his actions with cigarette enforcement indicate that, as they say in Texas, the man is all hat and no cattle.