OWATONNA — A former downtown Owatonna business owner has been charged with one felony count of possessing untaxed tobacco products, a crime that could bring a maximum five-year prison sentence and $10,000 fine.

Mohammad Abdelkader Abusbeih, 28, was charged last month by the Steele County Attorney’s Office for possessing untaxed tobacco products at his tobacco shop, Mojo Smokes, at 214 N. Cedar Avenue in Owatonna. According to the criminal complaint, an agent with the South Central Drug Investigation Unit entered Abusbeih’s business on March 21, 2018, to attempt to buy tobacco products. Law enforcement knew at the time that the store did not have a permit to be selling tobacco products.

While the officer was in the store, the complaint states they observed Abusbeih help a female customer and direct her to withdraw cash from the ATM in order to purchase products. The officer then purchased e-cigarette liquid tobacco products that were then turned in to evidence.

On March 23, 2018, another officer entered the store and purchased three different brands of e-cigarette products. According to the complaint, both officers reported that the cash register had one long, continuous paper ribbon coming that extended down to the floor on the customer side of the counter and were not given their own receipts.

On June 12, 2018, specialists with the Minnesota Department of Revenue – Criminal Investigation Division conducted a random compliance check at Abusbeih’s business. The agents identified themselves with Abusbeih and requested invoices for the large amount of tobacco products inside the store. After Abusbeih was only able to produce invoices for a small amount of the product, he was given one hour to call his distributors and have them email the invoices if he claimed that he paid taxes on the tobacco products. Abusbeih was charged with selling tobacco without a license the following day.

The specialists seized the products that lacked invoice support on July 10, 2018, totaling more than $2,300 with an owed tax value of $2,230.83. Abusbeih did not respond to the notice or appeal the seizure.

On Oct. 19, 2018, MDOR Investigator Darren McGann attempted to make contact with Abusbeih at the store. The store was closed and appeared to be vacated and unoccupied.

Abusbeih was officially charged on Dec. 6, 2019. His current whereabouts are unknown and he has two active warrants out of Steele County.

Tobacco tax is 95% of the wholesale price in Minnesota. Because the price of tobacco tax is so high in Minnesota, some retailers purchase tobacco products that have been brought into Minnesota from surrounding states with lower tax rates. The Tobacco Unit within MDOR is assigned to investigate this activity through random inspections and other investigative techniques. Retailers are required to purchase tobacco through a licensed distributor to ensure that all taxes have been paid, and keep invoices documenting this. Tobacco products found within a business that do not have supporting invoice are considered contraband.

This is not Abusbeih’s first encounter with the law regarding illegal activity at a tobacco store. In 2013, Abusbeih was charged with one felony and one misdemeanor for the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana out of a tobacco store in Faribault, along with two other men including Absubeih’s uncle. At the time, Abusbeih was part owner of the tobacco store, Tobacco for Less, with the two other men also charged.

The charges stemmed from two controlled buys of synthetic marijuana at the business, according to court documents. The store never re-opened following a raid and the aforementioned charges.

Abusbeih’s uncle, Ziad Shihdeh Abusbeih, pleaded guilty to one felony count of sale of synthetic cannabinoids.

Mohammad Abusbeih’s charges related to the Tobacco for Less incident were dismissed in 2016 for compliance with the terms of agreement for the case dismissal, which included unsupervised probation.

The Steele County Attorney’s Office did not a return a request for comment at this time.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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