Friday, November 09, 2001

Cigarette scheme alleged

Market is source of complaints

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Already immersed in liquor-license troubles, a West Chester Township couple has been hit with felony charges of illegal cigarette and tobacco sales at their Hamilton convenience store.

        Osama and Rose Nassar were arrested on the cigarette charges Wednesday during a liquor-permit hearing in Hamilton City Council chambers. They are free on their promise to appear next Wednesday in Hamilton Municipal Court.

        Mr. Nassar, 39, faces eight charges — half felonies, half misdemeanors. His wife, 30, faces five felonies, all involving alleged illegal sale and possession of untaxed tobacco products.

        Neither the Nassars nor their attorney, John Reble, could be reached for comment Thursday.

        The Nassars, who own the U.S. Mini Mart at 100 Pershing Ave., are accused of selling cigarettes without paying the state-mandated Ohio taxes on them. Investigators found 165 packs of cigarettes and four packs of chewing tobacco bearing Kentucky tax stamps “with no evidence of Ohio tax having been paid,” Hamilton police said.

        Ohio requires a 24-cent tax for each pack of 20 cigarettes, while Kentucky charges just 3 cents. The 21-cent-per-pack difference — plus lower per-pack prices in Kentucky — enabled the Hamilton store to sell one brand of smokes for $2.75 while competitors charged $3.50, said City Councilman Richard Holzberger.

        Mr. Holzberger said the alleged violations continued despite warnings to the couple. “They flagrantly disregarded our advice,” he said, “to make a buck.”

        The Mini Mart has been a source of complaints: unruly crowds, gunshots, alleged drug dealing, open containers and “people using the area as a public restroom but without restroom facilities,” Mr. Holzberger said.

        Mr. Holzberger said he was a primary witness against the Nassars in Wednesday's proceeding, in which the city opposed the couple's requested liquor permit transfer from the store's previous owners.


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