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CHICAGO (WBBM) – Cash-strapped Cook County is stepping up its pursuit of illegal cigarette sales.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Friday that the county has increased the number of teams going after people and businesses selling cigarettes without paying the county taxes.
In the last three weeks, revenue investigators and Cook County Sheriff’s Police have confiscated $353,000 worth of illegal cigarettes and levied more than $400,000 in fines.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports
Preckwinkle said that selling cigarettes without the county’s $2-a-pack tax stamps is tax evasion and it hurts the county’s ability to deliver services.
Sheriff Tom Dart said illegal cigarette sales are lucrative enough to pay for brand new Chevy Explorer that a group of smugglers used to bring cigarettes from Missouri (where the tax is 7 cents a pack) to the Chicago area in only four trips.
Dart said that, over the last four years, county cigarette tax revenue has dropped by $74 million.
Preckwinkle acknowledged that some of the drop may be due to the state’s smoking ban and the bad economy, but she believes the majority of that is from illegal sales.
The county is offering a $1,000 reward for turning in anyone selling cigarettes without tax stamps.