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Criminals Cash In On Stolen Cigarettes

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WILSON — Cash is not the only thing thieves are going after in Johnston and Wilson counties. Some brazen crooks are breaking into stores to steal cigarettes.

Police say two criminals used a cinder block to break into a Food Lion in east Wilson. The thieves, dressed in black clothing, knocked down the cigarette displays and put the packs in two large garbage bags.

Police say it took the thieves just over a minute to take the cigarettes.

A similar incident happened in Johnston County. The Reedy Creek Gas and Grocery was hit by thieves twice in the past few months. The main items they stole were cigarettes.

"When you've got something that expensive that you can get a lot of, it's like taking three or four hundred $20 bills, raking them into the sack and running out with them," says store owner John Jackson.

It is getting more expensive to smoke, and the black market for cigarettes is apparently growing. Due to large tax increases and company price hikes, cigarettes are nearly twice as expensive as they were a few years ago.

Investigators say they do not know where the packs of cigarettes are going, but someone is buying them.

"A pack of cigarettes right now runs about $3. They can sell them for a dollar or a $1.50 a pack, somewhere in that range," says Lt. C.E. Berube of the Johnston County Sheriff's Office.

Detectives say the trend will probably continue as thieves see the chance to make easy money. Stores may have to raise security levels another notch to keep criminals away.

"[The stores] are pretty secure. They have shopping carts in front of cigarette bins," says Capt. Carlton Turnage of the Wilson Police Department. "It worked for them for years and all of a sudden, this happens."

Police officials suggest moving the bins to the back of the store to prevent the cigarette thefts as well as installing a security system.

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Brian Bowman, Reporter
Brian Bowman, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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