Bootleggers beware: Liquor commission tamping down on illegal alcohol shipments

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After slapping nearly 1,000 liquor stores, wineries and shipping companies with “cease and desist” letters in December, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission plans to meet Wednesday to discuss the mailings and the steps it needs to take to stop the illegal shipment of alcohol.

The commission will also have a revocation hearing on Wednesday for Club Suavee, a dance club in Chicago Heights, that allegedly imported its booze illegally.

“The illegal direct shipment of alcohol into the state of Illinois is something that the Illinois Liquor Control Commission takes very seriously,” a statement from the commission read in part. “The cease and desist letters are a continuation of enforcement efforts by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission as we look to halt the shipment of alcoholic liquor from unlicensed sources into Illinois.”

More than 830 businesses from California to New York received the letters.

An investigation by the Wine and Spirits Distributors of Illinois in 2015 found stores have illegally shipped thousands of cases of beer, wine and spirits to stores and homes in Illinois.

The problem has persisted since then, causing Indiana’s U.S. Attorney to file a civil lawsuit in September 2017 against a family-owned liquor store in Hammond, Indiana.

The suit alleges the owners illegally sold booze to 17 liquor stores in Illinois’ south suburbs to avoid the higher sales tax.

The Hammond store maintained a “front door register” for normal retail business and a “back door register” for sales to Illinois liquor stores. The “rampant violations of state and federal laws” cost Illinois nearly $30 million in lost tax revenues each year, the wine and spirits distributors previously said.

Illegal transportation of alcohol into Illinois can result in Class 4 felony charges and additional tax-related penalties.

For Karin Lijana Matura, executive director of Wine and Spirit Distributors of Illinois, the problem represents a two-fold problem.

“The amount of taxes lost is insurmountable,” Matura said. “Safety is also a problem. People forget that alcohol is regulated for a reason. Distributors play a vital role in protecting people from hazards.”

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