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Police Arrest Nine in Cigarette Ring

Reported by: Paris Lewbel
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Updated: 11/06/2013 8:04 am
Police in Lexington and Nicholasville joined the U.S. Secret Service to arrest nine people and seize cash and cigarettes from a Lexington hotel.

Lexington Police say the nine suspects are from Atlanta. They're accused of using cloned credit cards to buy cigarettes. Authorities seized more than 68,000 cigarettes from the Econo Lodge on Athens Boonesboro Road. The cigarettes are believed to have a street value of more than $16,000.

According to police, the group re-encoded stolen credit card numbers onto phony cards and purchased cartons of cigarettes from the Lexington area. Then according to court documents, the cartons were taken back to Atlanta to be sold.

"They were going to gas stations, grocery stores and other places with these cloned credit cards to buy these cigarettes," says Lexington Police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts.

Kentucky has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the country, stores across the Bluegrass are becoming the target of scammers.

The Fayette Cigar Store has a staple on Main Street for more than a century, and recently, owner Dale Fergurson says he's also been a victim of credit card fraud.

"He presented a credit card," says Fergurson. "We ran it through and about four days later we got a notice from the credit card company stating that the charge was being challenged."

Police haven't said if these scammers targeted the Fayette cigar store.

The low taxes mean big bucks for scammers who take the cigarettes to other states, Ferguson says. "Today, a semi of cigarettes [a week], you'd be talking something in the neighborhood of three million dollars -- you get the concept real quick, it's a big business."

Vante Shepherd, Keon Johnson, Eric Muhammad, Dejuan David, Omar Fandino, Lateef Izuagbe, Deangelo Canter, Benson Brune, and Justin Williams are charged with Engaging in Organized Crime, Theft by Deception and 2nd Degree Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument. All nine men are scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday.

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