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Police smoke out illegal cigarettes

Three Glendale tobacco shops allegedly hid black-market cartons to avoid paying taxes.

June 27, 2012|By Veronica Rocha, veronica.rocha@latimes.com

Police on Tuesday seized 771 cartons of untaxed or illegal cigarettes — some of which were tucked behind mirrored compartments — at three Glendale tobacco shops.

More than 200 untaxed and illegal cigarette cartons were found hidden in a remote-controlled, mirrored compartment at Palmer Gifts on the 1000 block of East Palmer Avenue, Glendale Police Sgt. Manny Fernandez said.

Several hundred more cartons were also discovered hidden in a cubbyhole behind a mirror at Cigarette Zone on the 1200 block of South Glendale Avenue, he added.

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“They obviously went to great lengths to conceal it,” Fernandez said.

Finally, about 35 illegal cartons were discovered at B & Z Tobacco Shop on the 900 block of East Broadway. Some of the cigarettes seized are not legal for sale in California — including some foreign brands — while others were missing the required tax stamp.

Citations were issued to the business owners for the illegal or untaxed cigarettes, he added. Penalties could include fines up to $50,000, up to a year in jail and suspension or revocation of a tobacco license, according to the California Board of Equalization.


Police notified the bureau, which regulates and issues licenses for tobacco sales, after finding several untaxed packs of cigarettes during traffic stops last month, Fernandez said. Officers from Glendale’s Special Enforcement Detail, along with the board, searched 19 local shops. Allowing such compliance searches are a condition of having a license to tell tobacco.

The business owners were likely purchasing the cartons on the black market from licensed distributors or wholesalers, and were failing to report them to the board to avoid paying taxes, Fernandez said.

By not paying taxes, the business owners could make a larger profit on the carton sales, he added.

“It makes it tough for legitimate businesses to make a living,” Fernandez said.

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