3 suspects arrested in alleged bootleg cigarette ring

Michael De Silva, Shenita Howard, 23, and Trenaya Blackburn, 25, are allegedly involved in a bootleg cigarette ring. Credit: Franklin County Sheriff

Washington Police arrested three people suspected of using counterfeit credit cards to buy thousands of dollars in cigarettes at three local convenience stores.

Michael De Silva, Shenita Howard, 23, and 25-year old Trenaya Blackburn were arrested early Saturday morning.Detective Sergeant Steve Sitze with the Washington Police Department told News 4, "We obtained warrants on them for fraudulent use of a credit device with a $100,000 cash-only bond on all three."According to court documents, a clerk at the Fas-Trip Mobil convenience store became suspicious after De Silva made separate purchases of cigarettes for $915 and $776 and Howard purchased $375 worth of cigarettes. Court records say Howard admitted to investigators she was paid more than $2,000 to "go out and buy large quantities of cigarettes" with counterfeit credit cards. Police believe the trio purchased thousands of dollars in cigarettes using fraudulent credit cards at convenience stores in Washington, Union, Cape Girardeau, Farmington and Perryville. Sitze said he believes the suspects are part of a large bootleg cigarette ring based on the East Coast."They normally take those back east to sell them for even more of a profit, because they're using fraudulent credit cards so they're basically getting them for free and they take them back to sell them because our cigarette taxes are so low," Sitze said.Taxes on a pack of cigarettes in Missouri runs 24 cents but in New York City taxes are $.585 a pack. Last March, a federal grand jury in St. Louis indicted 14 people suspected of involvement in a bootleg cigarette ring that allegedly avoided paying more than $20 million in cigarette tax in New York by purchasing cigarettes in Missouri.

A representative of the Fas-Trip convenience store chain told News 4 that this kind of crime hurts locally owned businesses and consumers too."Increasing prices for everybody and our bottom line. We're a small chain, it impacts us more than it would, respectfully, your larger corporations."

Copyright 2017 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

News 4 Reporter

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