Law enforcement: Cigarette theft lucrative crime of opportunity

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Friday’s mob-like raid of cigarette cartons from inside a Palmetto 7 Eleven led to the arrest of four suspects authorities believe could be a part of a much larger problem.

Similar crimes have been reported in neighboring counties over the past several months. In each heist, the thieves are only after one thing - cigarettes.

 “We understand that there had been some even as far as Central Florida with a very similar method of operations. Going in, taking the cigarettes, and getting out,” said Randy Warren with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Sgt. Joe Maurer with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office works with surrounding counties to identify organized crime trends.

RELATED: Multiple 7-Eleven gas stations possibly targeted in cigarette theft crime spree

He told FOX 13 that cigarette cartons are becoming more and more lucrative to thieves due to their potential profit.

"Cigarette thefts have an incredibly high resale value for secondhand sellers, so whether it’s on the street or another vendor, they typically will sell them without taxes,” said Sgt. Joe Maurer.

Within the past few months, multiple cases of these brazen and bold crimes have been caught on security footage. Agencies throughout the Tampa Bay Area confirmed to Fox 13 that these cases are occurring and that many of them are still open.

While it is currently unknown how many groups are operating throughout the Bay Area or how many thefts are connected throughout the counties, individual agencies did confirm that they are following leads that could connect individual thefts within their jurisdiction.  

"They might be loosely affiliated groups, and they hit convenience stores close to highways,” said Sgt. Maurer. “They're easy to get into those cigarette stores, and then they're out and on to the next one if they can."

MCSO said another alarming reoccurrence is the young age of some of the suspects.

"They are younger suspects that may be hired by someone else to go and do the stealing and then somebody else is reselling them,” said Warren.

However, Sgt. Maurer said these are crimes of opportunity that appeal to any thief looking to make a quick buck.

While they may seem like small crimes, offenders could be looking at serious consequences.

That’s why authorities said it’s time for thieves to kick this habit.