18 face federal charges for contraband cigarettes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An Independence couple and their Wichita lawyer are among 18 defendants charged in a federal indictment accusing them of conspiring to transport more than $17 million worth of contraband cigarettes to New York, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri said Wednesday.

The 43-count indictment, which was unsealed Wednesday, alleges the defendants conspired to transport hundreds of thousands of cartons of contraband cigarettes bought from undercover federal agents to New York without paying the required $4.35 per pack excise tax.

The U.S. attorney’s office said most of the cigarettes were sold primarily from 2010 to 2012 on Indian reservations in New York, which lost more than $8 million in excise taxes.

“When unscrupulous companies traffic in contraband cigarettes, they are stealing from the public through millions of dollars in lost tax revenue,” said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said in a release.

Craig Sheffler, 43, and his wife, Nicole Sheffler, 35, both of Independence, and Craig Sheffler’s lawyer, Harry Najim, 65, of Wichita, are named in the indictment. Online court records did not immediately list an attorney for Sheffler. A person who answered the phone at a listing for the Shefflers hung up without commenting.

Najim’s attorney, Steve Joseph, said his client is “one of the most respected attorneys in Wichita, and there’s no possibility he’s guilty of the charge against him. None. Zero.”

Craig Sheffler is accused of buying contraband cigarettes from undercover ATF agents in Kansas City and selling them. Prosecutors said that in one transaction, Nicole Sheffler entered an undercover warehouse carrying an orange bucket containing two paper bags with about $400,000 in cash.

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