ANNAPOLIS – Comptroller William Donald Schaefer pressed Gov. Parris N. Glendening for information about terrorist organizations operating in Maryland during a Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday.
Schaefer said he believed there was a connection between cigarette smuggling in the state and terrorists.
Glendening, who with Schaefer and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon compose the board, repeatedly refused to answer Schaefer and suggested he wait for a briefing from the Maryland National Guard.
But Schaefer pressed, and his office later explained that he had gotten word the 1993 World Trade Center bombers illegally sold cigarettes to partially finance the operation. The office also referenced a recent North Carolina case where cigarette smugglers were linked to the Hezbollah, a terrorist group based in Lebanon.
In addition, some of the suspects in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center are believed to have spent months in Maryland.
And Schaefer’s inquiry came as his office was making the largest combined cigarette smuggling seizure in its history.
Schaefer said he felt the citizens of Maryland deserved to know what, if any, information were out there.
“Just getting on a plane and saying everything is OK is not enough,” said Schaefer about Glendening’s weekend trip to New York to promote tourism. The industry nationwide has been in a slump since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Wednesday, enforcement agents for the comptroller arrested two cigarette smugglers in separate operations. The busts, netting 28,890 packs of untaxed cigarettes worth over $100,000, mark the largest combined seizure in the agency’s history.
Cigarette smuggling in the state is a problem. Maryland’s cigarette tax is 66 cents a pack, while nearby Virginia’s is just 2.5 cents. Often bootleggers bring cheap Virginia cigarettes into Maryland to sell at a discount.
At the meeting, Glendening responded to Schaefer’s questioning with the suggestion that Schaefer wait for Gen. James Fretterd, who heads the state’s National Guard, to brief him later. Glendening thought a private briefing would be best so the information would remain confidential.
Finally, as Schaefer persisted, Glendening, visibly annoyed, refused to answer.
Schaefer then relented and asked that a resolution be passed by the board commending the president on his past efforts to help the country heal.
Again Glendening refused, saying this was not the place and time to deal with such issues.
Schaefer finally withdrew the resolution, somewhat dumbfounded as to why it was not passed. Glendening and Schaefer have had a less-than-cordial relationship. The two often face off at Board of Public Works meetings, one of the few places they are together. The two faced off earlier this year over whether to destroy or auction confiscated cigarettes. – 30 – CNS-10-3-01