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AG Opinion – Can the City of Hampton Using Its Police Powers Conduct a “Churning” Operation and Can the City Spend the Money?

This question is in response to the “churning” operation to sell tobacco products to bootleggers who were carrying the tobacco to high tax states for resale. The operation, Blue Water Tobacco, was run by the ATF, who abandoned the operation in October 2010, and the City of Hampton and was shut down in January 2012 after approximately $4 million went through the operation.  It appears no arrests were ever made. Over $80,000, somehow related to Hampton’s operation, was siezed by state police on the Eastern Shore in Exmore in January 2012. Some $750,000 remains in Blue Water Tobacco accounts. For full details on the story, the Daily Press has a timeline of stories. The AG has produced an opinion on the resolution of this matter.

The conclusion of the questions in this matter are the City of Hampton does, under police powers, have the authority to conduct a churning operation. The AG further states that the funds must be spent in accordance with the laws of Virginia in expenditure of public funds but cautions the City as to establishing ownership of the funds according to the Memorandum of Understanding with the ATF. The funds, if ownership is established, will be for the use of the city. For full details, please read the opinion.

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