Police confiscate half-million cigarettes

HENRY COUNTY — A traffic stop on Interstate 70 this week uncovered nearly half a million cigarettes police believe were intended for illegal sale.

On Monday, Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Ernstes stopped a rental truck on I-70 near New Castle for a traffic violation.

While speaking with the driver and passenger in the truck, whose names police have not released, Ernstes said he noticed two large bundles of cash sitting on the dashboard and piles of boxes in the cargo area covered with blankets, according to a news release.

Ernstes said the people in the truck were acting suspiciously, and he asked to search the vehicle.

In the boxes, Ernstes found about 2,400 cartons, which amounts to nearly a half-million cigarettes. The cartons are valued at $147,000, police said. Possession of such a large amount of tobacco without an Indiana Tax Stamp is illegal, and violators can be charged with a misdemeanor, police said.

Ernstes is a member of the Proactive Criminal Enforcement, or PACE, team, a multi-agency drug task force that focuses its patrols on I-70 between Indianapolis and the Ohio line, looking for traffickers.

He said the bust was a sizable one for the PACE team, whose members are trained to spot behavior consistent with drug trafficking.

“I’ve been doing this for more than 17 years, and I’ve never seen that many cigarettes,” he said.

Commonly, when that amount of tobacco is moved in bulk and concealed, it is intended to be illegally trafficked, Sheriff’s Maj. Brad Burkhart said.

In addition to the tobacco, officers seized more than 650 cans of baby formula, valued at $10,500.

The case remains under investigation, and no arrests have been made. Ernstes said he could not comment on whether the driver or passenger would be charged.

Other PACE team officers, including those from the Richmond Police Department and Henry County Police Department, and members of the Indiana State Police Criminal Interdiction Section, assisted with the investigation.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.