Funds seized

Shreyas and Dipteben Patel, owners of Columbia Liquor in Hammond, Indiana, “devised a scheme to defraud or obtain money by false or fraudulent pretenses” by buying liquor from three Indiana distributors and selling it for cash to liquor stores across Chicago's south suburbs in Illinois, officials allege.

HAMMOND, Ind. — Federal officials have seized $1 million from a northwestern Indiana liquor store whose Indian American owners are accused of selling alcohol to Illinois liquor stores to evade the state's significantly higher alcohol taxes.

Shreyas and Dipteben Patel, owners of Columbia Liquor in Hammond, “devised a scheme to defraud or obtain money by false or fraudulent pretenses” by buying liquor from three Indiana distributors and selling it for cash to liquor stores across Chicago's south suburbs in Illinois, officials allege.

“Specifically, the Patels, through their Indiana liquor store, purchased large quantities of liquor and sold them to 17 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.

Szewciw also alleged that the Patels and the Illinois store owners increased their profits by selling the liquor without “payment of excise taxes in Illinois.”

The U.S. attorney's office is now pursuing a forfeiture case in the United States District Court Northern District of Indiana, The Northwest Indiana Times reported.

The Wine and Spirits Distributors of Illinois trade association said cross-state bootlegging costs Illinois nearly $30 million in lost tax revenue annually.

“The continued brazen disregard for Illinois law by these modern-day bootleggers is putting the health and safety of Illinois consumers at risk and costing our state millions in much-needed tax revenue,” WSMI executive director Karin Lijana said.

A woman who answered the telephone Dec. 21 at Columbia Liquor twice hung up when asked by the Associated Press whether the Patels had any comment on the charges.

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