Hefty fines for Merritt couple caught smuggling tobacco from U.S. - InfoNews

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Hefty fines for Merritt couple caught smuggling tobacco from U.S.

A Merritt couple learned the high price of failing to declare tobacco products after pleading guilty to smuggling charges on tobacco in Penticton court today, March 11, 2019.
March 11, 2019 - 5:53 PM

PENTICTON - A Merritt couple is paying a high price after failing to declare tobacco products purchased in the United States.

The two will pay over $4,000 each in fines after failing to pay $160 worth of duties on cigarettes purchased across the line.

Neil Timothy Shackelly and Dion Gwendolyn Aljam entered guilty pleas in Penticton court today, March 11, to counts of smuggling and selling or possessing unstamped tobacco.

The charges stem from two separate incidents where the couple attempted to bring undeclared tobacco products across the border.

Federal Crown Prosecutor Jeremy Burgess told court Shackelly and Aljam were crossing the border into Osoyoos after a shopping trip to Omak, Washington, around 4:45 p.m. on Dec. 11, 2017, when they were referred for secondary inspection after making a declaration of purchases that didn’t include tobacco products.

The secondary search turned up several plastic bags containing various types of tobacco products, including tubs and rolls of tobacco, smokeless tobacco and several different brands of cigarettes, totalling 6.608 kg of tobacco products and 102 grams of loose tobacco.

The couple were placed on a Canadian Border Services lookout list and identified when they crossed the border again on Jan. 12, 2018.

For a second time, they failed to declare tobacco products purchased, and a secondary inspection of the pickup they were in revealed .941 kg of tobacco in various forms.

Customs inspectors also found a day planner with names and tobacco brands listed, referring to it as a “score sheet.”

Shackley told customs agents he was under the impression the products were exempt from duty because they were purchased on native land in Washington.

Burgess told court the minimum charge in penalties for the contraband was $1,826.82.

He sought $410 in penalties and duty charges along with an additional $1,000 for the second smuggling attempt.

Defence lawyer Norm Yates said Shackley, 46, and his wife Aljam, 37, were members of two Merritt-area First Nations bands.

He said there was no evidence the tobacco products, valued at $350, were being purchased for resale.

He told Judge Michelle Daneliuk his clients had no criminal record and weren’t expecting the trouble they got themselves into, believing it was a native right to bring such goods across the border without paying duty.

He said the fines imposed on his client would be a ‘big hit’ to them as a family.

Judge Daneliuk noted the couple’s lack of criminal history, their working backgrounds and educations, and early guilty pleas, but also noted their two separate, false declarations, made within a month of each other as an aggravating factor.

“It is very unfortunate the two of you are before me today,” she said. “There is a highly aggravating factor here, that being the second offence of this nature and it was just a little over two months (later). You were caught in December, you knew this was improper, and you went down and did this again. When you think about it, it really is something that is foolish to do when the duty is only $161.70.”

The judge issued fines totalling $4,076.82 each, $2,250 each on the smuggling charges and $1,826.82 for possessing unstamped tobacco products.

The two will have 12 months to pay the fines.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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