Robbers suspected in cigarette heists across 2 counties

The Venice Police Department is trying to track down four people suspected of pulling off an early morning cigarette heist at a 7-Eleven. 

At 2:35 in the morning, the female clerk was alone. Surveillance cameras captured the men walking into the 7-Eleven off East Venice Avenue Thursday, August 15. 

They were wearing jackets with their hoods up and part of their faces covered. One kept an eye on the clerk, telling her she'd be shot if she didn't cooperate. The other three went through the store and loaded trash bags full of cigarette cartons.

"The clerk is terrified. She's just trying to go about her business and do her job," said Venice Police Chief Tom Mattmuller. 

Two and a half hours after the suspects left the 7-Eleven in Venice, deputies in Manatee County believe the same group robbed a 7-Eleven on Cortez Road West in Bradenton. 

They took more cigarettes and cash. 

"Our concern is this type of crime will escalate. Our concern is someone could just walk into a convenience store at the wrong time and could get hurt. We are asking the community to help identify these individuals and put a stop to it. We are working with many of the surrounding law enforcement agencies that are experiencing the same thing we just want to keep the community safe," said Chief Mattmuller. 

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Law enforcement officers believe these cigarette thieves are young men or teenagers and possibly part of a crime ring from Tampa. They believe the stolen cigarettes are being repackaged and sold.

Officials say the group has been hitting stores in Manatee, Sarasota, and Charlotte counties for more than a year. 

"If they can identify these people, as law enforcement, we need to get out there and stop these individuals," said Chief Mattmuller. 

The suspects fled in a silver sedan. Anyone with information should contact the Venice Police Department with case #19-1523. Anonymous tips can be called in to Crime Stoppers at 941-366-8477.