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Four people arrested, guns seized in crackdown on sale of counterfeit cigarettes

February 11, 2011 |  8:28 am

Cigarettes_file_photo
A crackdown on the sale of counterfeit cigarettes has led to the arrest of four people, the seizure of about 500 cartons of fake brand cigarettes and three guns, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.

Detectives made the bust after serving search warrants Wednesday at two locations in the 400 block of Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, authorities said. Investigators warned that some of the cigarettes contain materials not usually found in tobacco products.

About 450 cartons of counterfeit tobacco with an estimated street value of about $25,000 and 53 cartons of duty-free tobacco with a value of about $3,000 were seized, authorities said.

The suspects sold the packs of counterfeit cigarettes on the street by walking up to people and asking whether they wanted to get a good price on packs or cartons, authorities said.

The two search warrants also resulted in three handguns being recovered, one of which had been reported stolen in a burglary in West Covina in March of 2010.

The four suspects arrested were identified as Johnny Morales, 20;  Elena Bautista, 39; Benjamin Leal, 58; and Jose Garcia, 59. Their bail was set at $20,000 each, authorities said. Morales is an admitted gang member who is currently out on parole.

"We hope to increase global awareness of the negative impact of organized intellectual property crimes," said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca in a statement. "Counterfeiting and piracy impact public safety by funding organized crime, street gangs, and even terrorism through the sales of these counterfeit products."

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-- Richard Winton

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times file photo

Click for crime reports across L.A. County on The Times' interactive database

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