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Middletown police seize cigarettes from local store

Middletown police Wednesday seized packs of cigarettes that did not have local sales tax stamps from the ABS Food Mart store on Main Street.

“Our Town Hall got a tip that one of our stores was not collecting the local tax on cigarettes,” Middletown Police Chief Gary Benedict Jr. said. “Middletown charges 25 cents.”

Localities do not have to collect a local cigarette sales tax, but most do, he said. All localities in Frederick County do, as well as Strasburg and Woodstock in Shenandoah County as well as Berryville in Clarke County and Front Royal in Warren County, Benedict said.

The department conducted an investigation, sending someone in last week to purchase a pack of cigarettes. It had no local stamp on it. Another person was sent in on Wednesday to purchase a different brand of cigarettes. That pack also had no local stamp.

At 1 p.m. Wednesday,  police went to the business, talked to the owner and seized about 3,100 packs of cigarettes.

Business owner Shahzad Munir told the Northern Virginia Daily that he was not aware of the local tax because the town did not properly inform him of it.

Town officials have previously talked to Munir about his responsibility to pay the tax, Benedict said.

Munir denied Benedict’s assertion that town officials had spoken to him about the tax. Munir said he was never given anything in writing or had anything properly explained to him.

“This should be explained before,” Munir said.

Now that he has talked to the police chief, Munir said he understands and will pay the local cigarette tax.

Munir has owned the business since December but said he has been trying to get the store ready and has not even had an official grand opening.

“I am a small business,” Munir said, adding that he is simply trying to survive while offering his customers the best price possible.

The town will attempt to collect what it is owed, which is about $700. The business could also be fined, Benedict said.

After the business pays the town, it will be able to reclaim the packs of cigarettes, he said.

Munir said he intends to do that.