Retro: State and federal authorities up and down California and over to Vegas have busted up a big non-cigarette tobacco ring that allegedly avoided paying taxes — $35 million in California excise taxes.

A bevy of state and federal agencies were involved in the three-year investigation, racking up 15 arrests and indictments of three businesses.

The suspects allegedly used dummy corporations, fake invoices and falsified excise tax forms to avoid paying taxes on cigars, chewing tobacco and other non-cigarette tobacco products. The government has seized more than $1 million in tobacco products and has begun civil forfeiture on more than $20 million in assets.

To get an idea of how big this ring allegedly was, note the disparate locales of the suspects and their operations: Vegas, Chicago, Carson, North Hollywood, Burbank, Los Angeles, El Cajon.

This calls to mind Henry Hill's first “pinch” in “Goodfellas” for selling tobacco out of a car trunk. After an obviously dirty judge lets him off, Robert DeNiro's Jimmy Conway tells Hill that he learned the two greatest lessons in life: “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.” To us these always seemed like variations on the same lesson, but still, a great line.

LA Weekly