Former tobacco business must pay $5,000 fine

A former Marietta tobacco business that was rolling its own cigarettes for sale and not charging appropriate taxes was sentenced Thursday in Washington County Common Pleas Court to pay $5,000 in fines.

In a court hearing that lasted less than two minutes, Tobacco Road LLC was ordered to pay the fine on a fourth-degree felony count of possessing cigarettes not bearing stamps. Company president George F. Joseph Jr. pleaded guilty to the charge on the company’s behalf on Jan. 24.

The company, which was located at 228 Pike St., had been selling cigarettes rolled on location using three expensive pieces of equipment known as roll-your-own devices, said Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Rings.

Such machines became illegal due to a change in the law in 2012, said Rings.

“When the business opened, what they were doing was legal. Then the law changed,” he said.

The company was charged with the crime after the Ohio Department of Taxation found them still using the machines and selling their own cigarettes at nearly half the market price several months after the law changed, he added.

Tobacco Road was allowed to plead guilty to the charges as a business because it increased the state’s likelihood to collect a fine. Individuals are rarely assessed fines in felony cases, and corporations face larger maximum monetary penalties. Tobacco Road faced a maximum $10,000 fine. However, the company was ordered to pay $5,000, which incidentally is the maximum fine that an individual charged with a fourth-degree felony would face.

Rings said the agreement to a fine less than the maximum was reached because it was understood that Joseph, who opted not to make a statement in court Thursday, would give up possession of the three tobacco rolling machines as well.

Now that the felony case against the corporation has been finalized, Joseph will be charged as an individual in Marietta Municipal Court for a first-degree misdemeanor count of possession of criminal tools for having the machines, said Rings.

The forfeiture of the roll-your-own devices will be a result of that charge, he said. Those machines are valued at thousands of dollars each, he added.

Defense attorney Michael Bowler, of Akron, asked that Joseph be given a few weeks to pay the fine.

“If the court would allow him, he could bring the check with him to his next court appearance,” said Bowler.

Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Randall Burnworth agreed.

Rings said defendants are often given years to pay their fines, so a fine paid within weeks is perfectly acceptable from the state’s point of view.