Feds seize $1 Million From Indian-American-Owned Liquor Store Alleged to Bootleg to Illinois

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HAMMOND, Ind.— Federal authorities have seized $1 million from a liquor stored owned by Shreyas Patel and Dipteben Patel in Hammond, Ind., a local newspaper The Times reported.

The newspaper said the federal government seized $1 million from Columbia Liquors at 6433 Columbia Ave. in south Hammond alleged to have sold booze to Illinois liquor stores so they could dodge the higher state alcohol taxes in the Land of Lincoln.

The federal case charges that Columbia Liquor owners Shreyas Patel and Dipteben Patel “devised a scheme to defraud or obtain money by false or fraudulent pretenses.” Prosecutors allege Columbia Liquors bought liquor from three Indiana distributors and in turn sold it for cash to liquor stores across the south suburbs in Illinois, where excise taxes are substantially higher, The Times reported.

In June, law enforcement officials seized $1 million from Columbia Liquors at 6433 Columbia Ave. in south Hammond and its bank accounts at First Merchants Bank in Munster, including more than $52,000 in cash the owners had at their home, according to court records. The U.S. attorney’s office is now pursuing a forfeiture case in the United States District Court Northern District of Indiana in Hammond, according to the newspaper.

“Specifically, the Patels, through their Indiana liquor store, purchased large quantities of liquor and sold them to seventeen Illinois liquor stores, at least five of which they own, for subsequent retail sale thereby depriving the State of Illinois of excise and sales taxes to which it was entitled,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Orest Szewciw charged in the federal complaint as reported by The Times. “By selling liquor purchased without payment of excise taxes in Illinois, the Illinois liquor-store owners, including the Patels, increased their profits. In furtherance of the scheme to defraud or obtain money by false pretenses, the Patels caused the use of interstate wire communications.”

The feds alleged Columbia Liquors operated a “front door register” for legitimate retail sales that brought in an average of $1,570.12 a day earlier this year, and a separate “back door register” for sales to Illinois liquor stores that brought in $42,347.76 per day, according to court documents, the newspaper said.

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