Four arrested for selling fake cigarettes

LOS ANGELES - Sheriff's deputies arrested four people last week on charges of selling counterfeit and duty-free tobacco in downtown Los Angeles.The arrests come on the heels of a bust in East Los Angeles, where sheriff's deputies found people selling counterfeit cigarettes. The arrests led them to their suppliers, operating out of two stores on the 400 block of Broadway. Last Wednesday, deputies executing a search warrant discovered about 450 cartons of counterfeit tobacco with a value of $25,000, authorities said. Deputies also seized 53 cartons of duty-free tobacco valued at $3,000. Authorities said the suspects would sell packs of counterfeit cigarettes by approaching people on the street and asking if they wanted a good price on packs or cartons of cigarettes. The buyers would often not know they were buying inferior products, officials said. Counterfeit tobacco poses unique and unknown health risks, and the product is often handled in unsanitary environments. The four people arrested were identified as Johnny Morales, 20; Elena Bautista, 39; Benjamin Leal, 58; and Jose Garcia, 59. All are residents of Los Angeles. Morales is an admitted gang member who is currently on parole. The sale of counterfeit and duty-free tobacco in California results in an estimated $182 million in lost tax revenue each year, officials said. "We hope to increase global awareness of the negative impact of organized intellectual property crimes," said Sheriff Lee Baca. "Counterfeiting and piracy impact public safety by funding organized crime, street gangs and even terrorism through the sales of these counterfeit products. These criminals cost society billions of dollars in lost government revenues, foreign investments and local business profits."

********** Published: February 24, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 45