On February 25th, 2022

San Francisco Grocery Store Owners Sentenced for Illegal Tobacco Distribution

“Business owners who don’t adhere to California law work against our communities and our state’s economic well-being.  This investigation is an example of the need for state agencies to have agents and investigators who have expertise in various areas and can work together to identify those who are involved in illegal activity.” – CSLEA  President Alan Barcelona

OAKLAND – On February 18, 2022, the California Attorney General’s Office announced the sentencing of Huichang Wu and Zhenyu Wu, two siblings who ran an illegal tobacco import and sales operation in San Francisco. Together, the pair imported more than 2,700 cartons of illegal Chinese cigarettes for sale out of D&K Herb and Grocery, a grocery store they owned and operated in the city.

Both individuals were sentenced to two years of formal supervised probation. In addition, the defendants will pay $77,576 to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) and $50,000 in investigative costs to the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Tax Recovery in the Underground Economy (TRUE) Task Force.

“When individuals take part in illegal business activity, they are not only hurting the economy, they are hurting the community where they do business,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “The law is not optional, and business owners operating in California must abide by our regulations. Thank you to our agents and partners in the Tax Recovery in the Underground Economy Task Force for a thorough investigation, and for holding these defendants accountable.”

From April 2020 to June 2020, the defendants knowingly purchased cigarettes from an unlicensed distributor or wholesaler in China to sell in the United States, and imported thousands of these cigarettes through various mail centers in an attempt to avoid paying the taxes owed to the CDTFA. Under the California Cigarette and Tobacco Products Licensing Act of 2003, it is unlawful for a retailer to buy cigarettes or tobacco products from anyone who is not licensed or to possess these cigarettes without paying the required taxes.

In December 2021, both defendants pled guilty to one count of Purchasing Cigarettes from an Unlicensed Distributor. As part of their plea agreement, the defendants will surrender their cigarette and tobacco retailer's license. They will also relinquish all money, property, or evidence, including the cigarettes, seized during the investigation.

The sentencing is a result of an investigation by DOJ and the CDTFA Investigations Bureau. Both agencies are part of the TRUE Task Force, which also includes the California Franchise Tax Board and the Employment Development Department. TRUE was created to ensure multiagency collaboration and combat wage theft, tax evasion, and other crimes in the underground economy. The task force consists of attorneys, investigators, and special agents from the member agencies.

A copy of the complaint is available here.

 

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