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Couple Accused of Selling Contraband Cigarettes

San Jose convenience store retailers who may have experienced a dip in tobacco sales over the past 12 months can rest easier today following the arrest of a San Jose couple suspected in a smuggling ring involving about $7 million in contraband cigarettes and state taxes.

The arrest was part of a new joint law enforcement crackdown on smugglers and tax cheats, federal and state authorities, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Luu Thien Le, 47, and his wife, Thao Thi Nguyen, 48, were arrested after a nine-month investigation that included surveillance and undercover work. The couple is charged with receiving, possessing, selling, distributing and purchasing contraband cigarettes. Le is also charged with money laundering and tax evasion.

About 150 officers from the Board of Equalization -- which collects taxes and fees for the state -- the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Internal Revenue Service, San Jose and other local police departments conducted 30 search warrants on businesses, vehicles and residences.

Seized from the couple were approximately 46,000 cartons of counterfeit stamped cigarettes, 130,000 counterfeit tax stamps and more than $190,000 in cash.

Authorities said the cigarettes, with phony tax stamps on them, were sold all over the Bay Area. They characterized the raid of the alleged smuggling ring as the single largest bust involving counterfeit stamps in the nation.
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