Tobacco Bust Nets Thousands of Illegal Cigarettes in Cook County

October 20, 2017

Building on continuing efforts to crack down on the illegal cigarette trade, Cook County Department of Revenue (CCDOR) agents, in cooperation with the Sheriff’s Police, this week raided a Skokie business and discovered more than 1,500 unstamped packs of cigarettes in three hidden compartments.

In what is believed to be the largest confiscation of unstamped cigarettes this year, CCDOR issued fines totaling more than $47,000 for the contraband and two suspects face criminal charges due to the exceptionally large quantity of unstamped cigarettes found on the property.

The raid is an example of stepped up CCDOR efforts to ensure compliance with all County revenue collection ordinances, said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

“Beneath floorboards, concealed by hidden compartments or behind false walls accessed by garage door openers, Cook County Department of Revenue investigators have seen it all when it comes to hiding illegal cigarettes,” Preckwinkle said. “Through determined enforcement efforts, our Revenue Department is combatting a sly and sophisticated tobacco black market.”

CCDOR enforcement agents work in partnership with the Sheriff’s Office throughout Cook County. “We are grateful for the Sheriff’s assistance in these efforts to ensure that businesses throughout Cook County are compliant with our ordinances and properly remitting required payments,” Preckwinkle said.

The raid took place at Skokie Discount Tobacco, Inc. located at 4019 Oakton Street, Skokie.

Following up on a tip to the Department of Revenue, an undercover CCDOR investigator initially purchased a pack of unstamped cigarettes on October 19. Establishing that the business was selling untaxed  tobacco, CCDOR investigators returned to the store where they observed the store clerk closing a concealed wall compartment in an attempt to hide the illegal cigarettes. 

After the business owner arrived on scene, the hidden compartment was opened with the use of a remote control device and 1,258 packs of unstamped cigerettes were recovered. An additional wireless remote was discovered inside this compartment, which was then activated and opened a second concealed compartment in the countertop near the cash register. 

This second hidden area contained 303 additional packs of unstamped cigerettes. 

The Cook County Tobacco Tax Ordinance imposes a fine of $1,000 for 1-40 unstamped cigarette packs and $25 per pack for each additional unstamped pack. Skokie Discount Tobacco was assessed this penalty as well as an additional $2,000 because they were previously cited for the same violation. They were also cited for concealment and assessed the $2,000 penalty along with an additional $4,000 as they had also previously been cited for this violation.

Over the last four years, CCDOR has tripled its number of tobacco inspections and nearly doubled the number of citations issued. CCDOR increased its number of tobacco inspections from approximately 4,800 in 2013 to 10,180 in 2016 resulting in more than 1,500 citations issued.  Overall, the County is expected to collect $127 million in cigarette tax revenue in 2017 and has confiscated more than 12,800 unstamped cigarettes in Cook County.

Residents can report retailers who they believe are in possession of illegal cigarettes via the Revenue Department’s website. More information is available by calling 312-603-6351 or to report a tip, visit https://apps.cookcountyil.gov/dor/

CCDOR has also increased collaboration with other government agencies, resulting in increased field surveillance, internet intelligence gathering and tracking activities to further clamp down on the illegal tobacco industry.