Convenience Store Crackdown: Sheriffs Bust City Bodega Clerks Peddling Contraband

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — You run in for a loaf of bread or container of milk, but the sheriff’s department is looking for something a little more sinister behind the shelves of your local deli.

CBS2’s Dick Brennan went to find out what’s behind the convenience store crackdown.

Hidden compartments, trap doors, sliding shelves that lead to secret rooms, could your local convenience store be hiding something?

Deputies with the New York City Sheriff’s Office are out in force on behalf of the city’s Department of Finance. They’re regularly looking for hiding spots that often conceal tens of thousands of dollars in contraband.

“The city is losing out on millions in untaxed cigarettes,” one officer said.

Anti-smoking commercials are just part of Mayor de Blasio’s latest initiative to curb tobacco use, which also includes raising the minimum price of a pack of cigarettes to $13. As CBS2 found out on a surprise raid, many stores in the city are finding clever ways to bypass the increase.

“We have runners that come up the I-95 pipeline from Virginia, North Carolina,” one deputy said.

States that have a fraction of the city’s cigarette sales tax.

“A pack of cigarettes in Virginia goes for four and change. Here they’re thirteen, so roughly I’d say on the street, they are making anywhere from sixty to ninety a carton,” one deputy said.

Cigarette tax revenue found a variety of projects from improving our infrastructure to cancer, and other health research.

When stores smuggle it puts a real dent in this money that helps everyone said Sheriff Joseph Fucito.

“This city would have to use other means to raise that revenue,” he said.

It’s not just illegal cigarettes. Deputies also found a wide variety of illegal weapons, even counterfeit alcohol.

“These Hennessy bottles are knockoffs,” one deputy explained.

Consumers have no way of knowing they may be funding illegal activity because clerks often attach counterfeit tax stamps to products.

Deputies use black lights to detect the phony stamps.

“If it’s a real stamp, you will see a light on the stamp,” she said.

In some cases arrests are made. In every case illegal products are seized, and fines are levied.

“The plan is obviously to increase enforcement to try to limit the amount of underground activity,” Fucito explained.

 

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