Federal agents have made some high-profile arrests in their bid to snuff out the aroma of Cuban cigars in the United States.
Agents raided two Manhattan businesses and arrested seven people in an attempt to rid the industry of the most popular and successful cigars.Two of the defendants charged with conspiracy were arrested Wednesday, and five more were taken into custody Thursday after raids on the Racquet & Tennis Club and the Patroon restaurant, where cigars are treated as delicately as babies.
Those arrested included Racquet Club manager Robert Gressler, Patroon owner Kenneth Aretsky and Patroon cigar room manager Alex Hasbany.
Also arrested Wednesday and Thursday were four buyers of the cigars who were willing to pay $825 for a box of Cohiba Esplendidos.
The men were charged under the Trading with the Enemy Act, which carries a potential penalty of up to 10 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine. All those arrested were released on their own recognizance after court appearances.
"This makes no sense," said Michael Kennedy, a lawyer for business executive Kenneth Joseph, one of the arrested purchasers. "It is both absurd and arcane to think that an individual American who buys a cigar from another American can be arrested for trading with the enemy."
Calls to Patroon were not immediately returned Friday. Gressler, the Racquet Club manager, said he had "nothing to say."
Gordon Mott, managing editor of Cigar Aficionado, said most Cuban cigars are smuggled into the country in small quantities by individuals who are not related to any organized smuggling ring.
He said the magazine estimates cigar consumption in the United States grew from 100 million in 1992 to about 500 million in 1997. Still, the number of Cuban cigars smuggled into the country has held steady at between 6 million and 8 million, he said.
"People are being arrested for a product that in every other country in the world is legal and in this country is legal when it doesn't come from Cuba," he said. "I think cigar smokers in general consider it a pretty unfair targeting of something that really doesn't do any harm to anyone."