Convenience stores are the most popular target for low-end thieves, and in the wake of the 1988 tax hike, men with knives robbed a series of convenience stores in Orange County. In each case, one man threatened the clerk while the others retrieved trash bags from their pockets and filled them with cartons of cigarettes. The cigarettes were later sold on the black market.[202]

Ten years later, after the 1998 tax hike, a more organized group of four armed men stole a tractor-trailer and drove it to a Corona warehouse. Wearing hoods, they forced forklift drivers to load the truck with pallets of cigarettes worth a million dollars. Eight hours later, the cigarettes were already finding their way into the black market, and the empty tractor-trailer was found abandoned.[203]

And in 2001, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that a team of robbers in the area entered a convenience store wearing ski masks and carrying automatic weapons. Before making off with the store's cigarettes, they locked an employee in the bathroom. Similar crimes had been documented in the area at the time, including some in which store patrons were threatened. Police from several jurisdictions felt compelled to develop a coordinated response.[204]


[202] Janine Anderson, "Cigarette Thefts Reignite Issue of Tax Increase," The Orange County Register, April 13, 1989.

[203] For details of the Corona heist see "Men Steal $1M in Tobacco Products," Associated Press, March 31, 1999; "Nicotine Fiends Score $1 Million," Associated Press, March 31, 1999; C.J. Schexnayder, "Getaway Big Rig Is Found," Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), April 2, 1999.

[204] "Police to unite on cigarette case," San Diego Union-Tribune, February 2, 2001.