General Cigar Company is reporting that teams of special agents from the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco (“ABT”) conducted a series of raids and arrests throughout Florida relating to the manufacture, distribution and sale of counterfeit versions of General’s products. In a press release by the company, the company says the ABT has seized $100,000 in counterfeit cigars carrying the Cohiba, Macanudo, and Partagas name. The company also says the ABT seized tens of thousands of dollars in counterfeit cigar bands and boxes.
In addition to seizing the assets, the ABT has arrested numerous individuals and charged them with felony forgery or counterfeiting of private labels and related offenses under Florida law.
General Cigar said the wheels in motion began a year ago when the company, when they requested the Tampa office of ABT open an investigation into entities and individuals who were suspected of being involved with the manufacture, distribution, and sales of these counterfeit products. This investigation soon expanded to other ABT offices located in the State of Florida.
According to General Cigar, the seizures began on February 28th. This led to a series of seizures and arrested in such municipalities as Clearwater, Davenport, Hollywood, Fort Meyers, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor, Tampa, and Weeki Wachee. The investigations remain on-going at press time.
The events leading up to the recent seizures and arrests began more than a year ago when, at General Cigar’s request, the Tampa office of ABT commenced an investigation into certain entities and individuals suspected of involvement in the manufacture, distribution and sale of counterfeit cigars. As the facts developed, special agents in other ABT offices commenced investigations of counterfeiters located throughout Florida. These investigations which remain ongoing have led to numerous seizures and arrests in cities and towns throughout the state, including Clearwater, Davenport, Fort Myers, Hollywood, Lutz, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor, Tampa and Weeki Wachee.
The largest seizure involved a company called Island Cigars Corp which is a licensed cigar distributor and retailer. The raids conducted at the company’s Weeki Wachee headquarters and their Oldsmar retail store resulted in the seizing of tens of thousands of counterfeit cigars and related cigar materials. As a part of the raid, the ABT also seized business records, computers, and printers. Rolando Gruart, president of Island Cigars and Constanza Sanhez, secretary of the company were both arrested in a late February raid.
In the press release, Dan Carr, president of General Cigar said, “We remain fully committed to anti-counterfeiting initiatives that protect consumers and greatly appreciate the efforts of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco and its special agents. The Company will continue to vigorously defend our trademarks and support criminal investigations and prosecutions relating to the distribution or sale of counterfeit versions of our cigars.”
This is not the first time the Florida ABT has been involved with the seizure of counterfeit General Cigar products. Back in 2012, the ABT raided and seized assets involving over 10,000 counterfeit Cohiba products being made in the Calle Ocho area of Little Havana in Miami, Florida.