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News Release

 

Feb. 24, 2010 – Tobacco Sweep Rolls Up Illegal Sellers

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Inspections of tobacco retailers by enforcement agents from the Ohio Department of Taxation have resulted in charges against four businesses in Jefferson and Columbiana counties.

Agents also seized several quantities of untaxed tobacco products during a “sweep” series of inspections in the two counties Jan. 21.

“Bottom line, it’s illegal for any retailer to sell untaxed tobacco products,” said Bob Bray, the Ohio Department of Taxation’s chief enforcement officer. “They’re taking profits from the retailers who are playing by the rules.”

Cited were:

  • Susan Best, owner of Riverside Market, 115 2nd Ave., Stratton, was charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor in Jefferson County Municipal Court #1 for trafficking in cigarettes without a license. She pleaded guilty and was fined $75 plus court costs.
  • Anthony Dipietro, owner of Canadian Confectionary, 220 S. 4th St., Steubenville, was charged in Steubenville Municipal Court with a fourth-degree misdemeanor for illegal distribution of cigarettes. Agents seized 42 cigarettes from the business. He pleaded guilty, and was fined $150 plus court costs.
  • Alok Chaturvedi, owner of BP Oil, 537 Main St., Wintersville, was charged in Jefferson County Municipal Court #2 with a fourth-degree misdemeanor for failing to maintain invoices of other tobacco products. Agents seized 588 cigars, 20 packs of chewing tobacco, 52 cans of snuff, and 200 blunt wraps from the business. The case is still pending.
  • Leona Swarthout, owner of The Cove, 1933 Dresden Ave., East Liverpool, was charged in East Liverpool Municipal Court with a fourth-degree misdemeanor for trafficking in cigarettes without a license. Agents seized 32 packs of cigarettes and $40 in cash from the business. She pleaded no contest and was fined $50 plus court costs.

The maximum penalty for a fourth-degree misdemeanor is a $250 fine and 30 days in jail. The individuals cited are also liable for the payment of all unpaid tobacco taxes, plus penalties and interest.

Enforcement agents also seized 84 packs of cigarettes, 37 cigars and 268 blunt wraps at three businesses in New Waterford, East Rochester and Lisbon. Although the owners weren’t charged, they still have a tax liability.

The investigation is continuing into a large seizure of untaxed cigars, blunt wraps, snuff and chewing tobacco at other locations in Jefferson County. Additional charges are possible.

“Sweeps” such as the one Jan. 21 are conducted periodically statewide in order to monitor retailer compliance with Ohio’s tobacco laws. The inspections are conducted by agents of the Ohio Department of Taxation’s Enforcement Division and by agents from the Excise and Motor Fuel Tax Division, in cooperation with local law enforcement authorities. This sweep was focused on border counties, since West Virginia has a lower cigarette tax than Ohio – 55 cents per pack compared $1.25 – and Pennsylvania does not tax other tobacco products.

Citizens who suspect retailers of selling untaxed tobacco products can help stop this activity by calling a new toll-free hotline: (877) SMOKE-80 (or (877) 766-5380).

Tobacco enforcement efforts in fiscal year 2009 led to the seizures 180,795 untaxed tobacco products, more than seven times the quantity seized the previous year.

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News media with further questions should contact Mike McKinney at (614) 466-5461.