WESTFIELD – The owner of the Pleasant Street Market was arrested Wednesday afternoon following a law enforcement investigation that revealed a systemic tax evasion scheme involving tobacco products.
Bhikhabhai C. Patel, 53, of 17 Kaolin Rd., Blandford, was arrested and arraigned in Westfield District Court on charges of possessing more than 12,000 cigarettes without a tax stamp, selling more than 12,000 cigarettes without a tax stamp, and tax evasion.
The investigation into the convenience store was conducted by the Westfield Police Department’s Community Service Unit (CSU), Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General’s office, Massachusetts Department of Revenue, and the Westfield Health Department.
The police seized what they estimated was more than $150,000 worth of tobacco products that had out-of-state tax stamps or no tax stamps at all, meaning that Patel was not paying the required tobacco taxes in Massachusetts. They also seized flavored vape products and Juul products that are not legal to sell in Massachusetts as of this year.
Police had received complaints about the incorrect tax stamps, which prompted Officer John Blascak to launch an investigation into Pleasant Street Market.
“Based on his investigation, a search warrant was issued and was executed [Wednesday] resulting in the seizure of more than 450 cartons of cigarettes without proper stamps,” said Police Captain Michael McCabe. “In addition to that there were numerous other tobacco and associate products that were seized along with the cartons of cigarettes because on their face they were illicit in the State of Massachusetts.”
McCabe broke down the numbers to explain why this was taken so seriously by law enforcement. He said that a carton of cigarettes in Massachusetts is supposed to be about $100. A carton in Kentucky, which is one of the states that Patel was using tax stamps illegally from, costs $56.
“That means there is a $44 profit over and above the profit that would be made by the retailer in the first place,” said McCabe, “That $44 of profit goes directly to his pocket as cash. It is never on the books.”
Patel was released on $10,000 cash bail after his arraignment Thursday. He is due in court on Jan.12 for a pre-trial hearing.
Patel appeared before the Westfield License Commission on Aug. 13 on behalf of Pleasant Street Market regarding an ongoing police investigation into his alleged selling of alcohol, vapes, tobacco, and lottery tickets to underaged persons. Patel was sanctioned by the License Commission for these violations. Police said that complaints later resurfaced, and a second investigation was conducted which found a number of the same violations being committed by Patel.
Police Chief Lawrence P. Valliere said that Lt. Kevin Bard of the CSU and Officer Blascak were instrumental in going forward with the investigation into Pleasant Street Market.
“A little over a year ago I was looking for a spark and a change of direction within our then Community Police Unit. The unit is now known as the Community Service Unit and is under the direction of Lt. Bard,” said Valliere, “Lt. Bard has brought energy and enthusiasm to his unit and they are extremely productive. Officer John Blascak was truly the driving force behind the investigation.”
In documents obtained from Westfield District Court, Officer Blascak said that Patel admitted to regularly driving to New Hampshire to purchase dozens of cartons of cigarettes with intent to resell them in Westfield. He also admitted to doing the same thing once in Kentucky, and he admitted to regularly driving to Pennsylvania to purchase flavored vape products to sell in Westfield.