SACRAMENTO – On June 18, 2020, the California Department of Justice announced the sentencing of Hazem Saba for operating as an unlicensed tobacco distributor and failing to pay nearly $400,000 in taxes to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. Saba was sentenced to five years felony probation, including a 120-day prison sentence and 60 days of community service, and required to pay the full restitution prior to sentencing.
"Hazem Saba chose to operate as an unlicensed distributor of tobacco. He chose to make a profit by breaking the law and evading taxes. Today Hazem Saba paid the price," said Attorney General Becerra. "At the California Department of Justice, we remain committed to holding criminals accountable and ensuring that everyone in our state is playing by the same set of rules."
"Having a team of agents, investigators and attorneys from various state departments working together to tackle the underground economy has proven successful," said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. "Those who operate businesses and evade paying taxes should take note."
In February 2019, the Tax Recovery and Criminal Enforcement (TRaCE) Task Force executed search warrants at a residence and multiple storage facilities belonging to Saba, resulting in the seizure of more than $1.5 million worth of untaxed tobacco and more than $115,000 cash.
On September 11, 2019, Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a felony complaint and arrest warrant in the San Bernardino Superior Court. In March 2020, Saba pleaded guilty to engaging in business as a distributor without a license, in violation of Revenue and Taxation Code sections 30149/30480. Saba paid full restitution of more than $460,000 prior to sentencing.
The TRaCE task force was created to ensure multiple state agencies work together to combat wage theft, tax evasion, and other crimes in the underground economy. The task force consists of attorneys, investigators, and special agents from the Department of Justice, the Department of Tax and Fee Administration, the Franchise Tax Board, and the Employment Development Department. Since its creation, its investigative teams have recovered $25 million in lost tax revenue, victim restitution, and investigation costs.
Effective January 1, 2020, the TRaCE task force was renamed the Tax Recovery in the Underground Economy (TRUE) task force.