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Press Release

Two Brothers Plead Guilty For Their Roles In A Contraband Tobacco Scheme Which Produced Nearly 30 Million Unlicensed Cigarettes

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of New York

CONTACT: Barbara Burns
PHONE: (716) 843-5817
FAX #: (716) 551-3051

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today that Joseph Thompson, 39, and his brother, Jonathan Thompson, 41, both of the Akwesasne Mohawk Indian Reservation, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Charles J. Siragusa, to wire fraud. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Marangola, who is handling the case, stated that the defendants worked with others to acquire “cut rag tobacco” which would be used to manufacture contraband cigarettes. Monies to purchase the cut rag tobacco were wired from Rochester, NY to CanStar International Inc., a tobacco broker, in the state of Florida. Once purchased, the cut rag tobacco was delivered to buildings and warehouses controlled by the defendants in Awkwasasne, NY. The defendants then used the cut rag tobacco to manufacture unlicensed cigarettes and distribute the cigarettes to various Indian Reservations in the United States.

Between June 2016 and December 2018, the defendants ordered approximately 72,500 pounds of cut rag tobacco from CanStar, which was used to manufacture approximately 27,923,077 unlicensed cigarettes. This resulted in a loss to the United States of approximately $1,405,368.46 in federal taxes.  

The pleas are the culmination of an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, under the direction of Jonathan D. Larsen, Special Agent-in-Charge; Homeland Security Investigations - Border Enforcement Security Team, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Kevin Kelly; Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Unit, under the direction of Director Brian Manaher; the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – Office of Field Operations, under the direction of Assistant Administrator Nicholas Colucci; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge John B. Devito, New York Field Division.

Sentencing is scheduled for August 27, 2020, before Judge Siragusa.

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Updated May 27, 2020

Financial Fraud