Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister says a regional investigative task force noticed a trend throughout the west coast and central Florida. Thieves were robbing retailers and delivery trucks of cigarettes, then selling them to small convenience stores.
Hillsborough undercover deputies targeted 15 local stores as part of "Operation Up In Smoke", which Chronister says were more than eager to buy the stolen cigarettes.
Chronister believes "Operation Up In Smoke" has put a very big cigarette theft racket out of commission, thanks to the work of the the new Tampa Bay Regional Intelligence Center in Hillsborough County.
17 people have been arrested. $60,000 has been confiscated, along with nearly 200 stolen packs of cigarettes, some weapons and even various forms of pot.
(Video and picture courtesy of the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office)