One of five merchants charged with buying and reselling stolen cigarettes in 2018 was sentenced to two months federal prison Wednesday and ordered to pay $2,285 in restitution.
According to United States Attorney Richard Moore, 45-year-old Thy Touch pleaded guilty in December to trafficking in contraband cigarettes. Touch formerly operated a Pride convenience store on St. Stephens Road that was raided by law enforcement agencies.
In response to several reported burglaries that appeared to only target cigarettes, the Mobile Police Department and other agencies began investigating what Chief Lawrence Battiste described as a theft ring.
Following a raid on Nov. 6, Battiste said the ring was fueled by store owners who knowingly purchased stolen cigarettes to avoid paying state tobacco taxes.
Eventually, five merchants and one employee of several stores in the area were indicted and charged with trafficking stolen cigarettes.
In addition to the prison sentence and restitution, Touch must also serve two years of formal probation.
The store he operated in the Campground area was also temporarily seized and boarded up by the city of Mobile.
It does not appear to have reopened at this time.
According to a press release from Moore’s office, a cooperating citizen identified Touch as
an individual he had previously illegally sold cigarettes to in the past.
After that, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms launched an undercover operation that included selling significant quantities of contraband cigarettes to Touch.
According to Battiste, retail cigarette vendors like Touch know that properly obtained cigarettes have notifications confirming that all applicable state taxes have been paid. Yet, on multiple occasions during a four-month investigation, Touch purchased roughly 1,359 packs of untaxed Newport and Kool cigarettes. At another store, police say he purchased as many as 10,000.
According to federal prosecutors, the schemed resulted in a tax loss to the State of Alabama of around $917 and a loss to the Internal Revenue Service of about $1,367.
Also implicated in the same stolen cigarette scheme were Mobile residents Reginald Lyons, Sakhoeuth Khan, Khalil N Al-Mashni, Shahid Abassi, and Shameka Mallory. Lyons and Al-Mashni were both previously sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay $1,008.96.
When the raids occurred, Moore commended the joint effort of the ATF and local police.
“Trafficking in illegal contraband of any kind hurts honest businesses that follow the law. I have encouraged all law enforcement to be on the lookout for these kinds of crimes that undermine our economy,” Moore said. “We will prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law.”
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