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MONTEBELLO - Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies serving a multi-location search warrant Monday recovered more than $1.8 million in counterfeit cigarettes and nearly $100,000 in fake Viagra pills.
The search warrant, carried out with help from Homeland Security, the Board of Equalization, the FBI, and private investigators from Phillip Morris Company, was the result of an investigation that began more than a year ago when law enforcement officials learned that several people in the Los Angeles area were importing and selling counterfeit and duty-free cigarettes.
Detectives confiscated nearly 30,000 cartons of counterfeit cigarettes and more than 4,000 phony Viagra pills from storage units in East Los Angeles and South El Monte.
Investigators also found counterfeit tax stamps from California, Arizona, Minnesota, New York and New Jersey, which are used to avoid paying state and federal cigarette taxes.
Authorities estimated the forged tax stamps would have cost California taxpayers nearly $260,000 in state taxes and $300,000 in lost federal tax revenue.
During a search of a suspect's home in Rosemead, detectives recovered nearly $110,000 in cash. They also arrested a 42-year-old female resident and a 37-year-old male for sale and distribution of counterfeit merchandise.
Both suspects face up to three years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted.
Authorities said federal charges could be filed if they can prove the cigarettes were smuggled into the United States with the intent to defraud the government.
According to investigators, counterfeit cigarettes generally have inferior packaging, sometimes contain misspelled words and the tobacco oftentimes contain unsafe byproducts.
Counterfeit tobacco and Viagra pose unknown health risks and their production is often unsupervised by health authorities, law enforcement officials said. They're often made in "very unhealthy and unsanitary environments," they added.
"Counterfeiting and piracy impact public safety by funding organized crime, street gangs and even terrorism through the sales of these counterfeit products," said Sheriff Lee Baca. "Criminals engaged in counterfeiting products cost society billions of dollars in lost government revenues, foreign investments and local business profits."
Published: July 05, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 12