Do you ever wonder who profits from the black market sale of cigarettes or Viagra? Well, those purchases could help finance Hezbollah, the terrorist organization engaged in a conflict with Israel.
"Anytime that you buy a good illegally on the black market, there is a possibility you are helping to fund groups like Hamas and Hezbollah," said terrorism financing expert Emily Hunt.
Hunt says tens of millions of dollars -- a conservative estimate -- is funneled to Hezbollah from the United States through various illegal operations.
In March, the U.S. Department of Justice charged 19 men with "racketeering to support a terrorist organization." For eight years, investigators say, the suspects sold contraband cigarettes, counterfeit rolling papers, even counterfeit Viagra.
Investigators say the suspects bought cigarettes in North Carolina, where taxes are lower, or in some cases at a New York Indian reservations, where there are no taxes. By doing so, they evaded tens of millions of dollars in cigarette taxes.
They then made huge profits by reselling the cigarettes in New York and Michigan at market prices. A portion of the profits, the indictment charges, was given to Hezbollah. Can you imagine? U.S. citizens unknowingly sending money to Hezbollah.
But some other Americans were well aware of what was going on. In some cases, buyers on the black market were charged a "resistance tax" -- a set amount over the going price -- and told the money would go to Hezbollah, investigators said.
Members of the group also allegedly solicited cash from customers to be given to orphans of Hezbollah suicide bombers. And the money trail doesn't stop there. Investigators say Hezbollah also received financing through sympathetic charities. After the donations were made, they were diverted to Hezbollah.
"Many of them are able to kind of fly under the radar simply because we don't have the resources. ... Law enforcement doesn't have the training or the time to really be delving into their backgrounds," Hunt said.