A day before cigarette taxes in Cook County would rise to the second-highest in the nation, sheriff's police made a stunning bust of nearly 5,000 black market packs of cigarettes in Chicago.
(See photos of the best below.)
Just past noon on Thursday, the Tribune reports police officers and inspectors from the Cook County Department of Revenue were checking cigarettes at Tom's Food Mart in Lawndale to make sure they had the proper tax stamps.
Rather than making a routine stop to the 3553 W. Roosevelt Rd. shop, however, police made one of the biggest unlicensed cigarette busts in department history. A release from the sheriff's department stated:
"While officers and inspectors entered the store front, they noticed a man passing through a false wall. This false wall was situated behind a bookcase in an area that was closed off, but not locked. The opening in the false wall led to a storage area where a total of 4,977 packs of cigarettes were found without county stamps."
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said counterfeit and illegal cigarettes could pose more of a health risk than legitimate cigarettes already do.
"It's anyone's guess what's in those cigarettes," Dart said according to ABC Chicago. "They're making money because they're getting people to come and buy these at a discount."
Dart told ABC the cigarettes had been shipped from China to O'Hare and hopes the bust could lead to more seizures.
As HuffPost Chicago reported Thursday, scofflaws looking to dodge the new fees by picking up smokes sans tax stamp or buying illegal cigarettes face penalties as high as $4,000.
Friday marked the hike in cigarette fees, pushing the total taxes on a pack of smokes in Chicago to $6.67.
The owner of Tom’s Food Mart was fined $128,425 by the county, according to the sheriff's department. Last year, the county collected approximately $1.3 million in cigarette tax fines.