PETERSBURG, Va. -- A team of investigators walked out of the Valero gas station on South Crater Road in Petersburg with about 500 packs of cigarettes stuffed into garbage bags.
The city confiscated the cigarette packs after an investigation revealed the cigarettes were being sold without the city's cigarette stamp on them. The stamp helps prove the business owner paid the city the 90-cent-per-pack cigarette tax.
"If they sell cigarettes and they do not have the stamps on the cigarette pack, the cigarettes will be forfeited. In other words, we take the cigarettes," Petersburg Commissioner of Revenue Pam Hairston said.
Hairston said while it was possible the business still paid its tax and failed to display the stamp, failure to display the stamp itself is a misdemeanor.
"The stamp has to be on each pack prior to sale," she said.
Petersburg raised the city's cigarette tax from 10 cents per pack to 90 cents last fall in an effort to help close the city's budget gap.
Hairston estimated the city would make about $1 million in cigarette tax revenue this year. She said there are around a dozen businesses that have not yet purchased their cigarette stamps.
"It's not about generating revenue, it's about putting people in compliance [with the city code]," Petersburg Police Lt. Chris Walker said.
Police, the Health Department, the Fire Marshal, Virginia ABC, and the Office of Revenue are among the city and state departments that make up Petersburg's abatement, code and enforcement (ACE) team.
The team is going around Petersburg this week to make sure businesses are in compliance.
"This type of enforcement has been ongoing, but we are going to step it up a bit," Walker added.
Businesses have the option of buying the confiscated cigarettes back from the city. The city could also auction off confiscated cigarettes.
This is a developing story. Witnesses can submit news tip here.