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Black market cigarette case nets 12, including Cook sheriff’s officer

Cook County sheriff's Investigator Larry Draus (center) is shown this September file photo.  | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

Cook County sheriff's Investigator Larry Draus (center) is shown in this September file photo. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 7, 2012 8:20PM

While a Cook County Sheriff’s police officer protected a black market warehouse, millions of dollars worth of untaxed cigarettes were trafficked out of the Hickory Hills location for two years, according to federal charges on Thursday.

The case, led by the ATF, charges that from March 2010 to March 2012, the defendants allegedly paid more than $20 million to buy more than 100 million cigarettes without paying Cook County or Illinois taxes.

More than 12 people were charged in the sting, which involved an extensive operation at an undercover warehouse, using video and audio surveillance.

The defendants are accused of trading guns, drugs, and counterfeit cigarette tax stamps to buy the untaxed cigarettes.

Lawrence E. Draus, also known as “Eric,” 33, of Peotone, and his father, Lawrence A. Draus, also known as “Larry,” 62, of Lansing, were charged with conspiring to commit extortion after allegedly taking $10,000 wrapped up in a newspaper from an ATF informant.

The money was paid out so the elder Draus, a sheriff’s officer, would protect the trafficking out of the warehouse, according to charges.

The elder Draus had been assigned to the Special Operations Division, Vice Unit, in Maywood.

In March, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that his son paid about $217,000 for 170 cases of contraband cigarettes and accepted about $60,000 in protection money from an informant since July, according to a federal complaint.

On Jan. 30, the father met the informant for the first time at a restaurant, accompanied by his son, and accepted the package of cash under the table, authorities said.

“I am doing this for my son. I don’t care about anything. It’s for him. I want him to do good,” he told the informant in a secretly recorded conversation, authorities said.

The informant asked the father, of Lansing, to “scare off” someone “hovering around my business,” according to the complaint. “Get me his name,” he responded, the complaint said.

The informant provided the name of another man secretly working for ATF, according to the complaint.

On Feb. 1, the father, wearing a badge around his neck, confronted the man outside the warehouse. After a brief discussion, he allegedly told the man to “hit the road” and left, the complaint said.

Draus has been suspended without pay, pending merit board action, Cook County sheriff’s spokesman Frank Bilecki said.

Also charged was Aiman Othman, 32, of Oak Lawn, who is accused of conducting 44 transactions in which he paid two cooperating individuals more than $3.4 million and provided 161 guns in exchange for more than 23.1 million unstamped cigarettes. Under state law, taxes must be paid on each box of cigarettes and in Cook County licensed distributors must buy specific stamps to be placed on the cigarette boxes before the sales.

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