SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the sentencing of Hazem Saba for operating as an unlicensed tobacco distributor and failing to pay nearly $400,000 in taxes to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. Mr. Saba was sentenced to five years felony probation and required to pay the full restitution prior to sentencing.
"Hazem Saba chose to operate as an unlicensed distributor of tobacco. He chose to make a profit by breaking the law and evading taxes. Today Hazem Saba paid the price," said Attorney General Becerra. “At the California Department of Justice, we remain committed to holding criminals accountable and ensuring that everyone in our state is playing by the same set of rules."
In February 2019, the Tax Recovery and Criminal Enforcement (TRaCE) Task Force executed search warrants at a residence and multiple storage facilities belonging to Mr. Saba, resulting in the seizure of over $1.5 million worth of untaxed tobacco and more than $115,000 cash.
On September 11, 2019, Attorney General Becerra filed a felony complaint and arrest warrant in the San Bernardino Superior Court. In March 2020, Mr. Saba pleaded guilty to engaging in business as a distributor without a license, in violation of Revenue and Taxation Code sections 30149/30480. Mr. Saba paid full restitution of more than $460,000 prior to sentencing and will be placed on five years felony probation, including a 120-day prison sentence and 60 days of community service.
The TRaCE task force was created to ensure multi-agency collaboration and to combat wage theft, tax evasion, and other crimes in the underground economy. The task force consists of attorneys, investigators, and special agents from the Department of Justice, the Department of Tax and Fee Administration, the Franchise Tax Board, and the Employment Development Department. Since its creation, its investigative teams have recovered $25 million in lost tax revenue, victim restitution, and investigation costs. Effective January 1, 2020, the TRaCE task force was renamed the Tax Recovery in the Underground Economy (TRUE) task force.