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Five break-ins indicate thieves prefer cigarettes

A Dade City store is burglarized for the fifth time early Tuesday. Each time the burglars swipe cigarettes.

By BRADY DENNIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2001


DADE CITY -- Whoever has broken into A.J.'s Food Warehouse five times in the past five weeks probably is celebrating with a smoke.

Each time, the intruders have stolen dozens of cartons of cigarettes. Their favorites: Kool and Newport, sometimes Salem.

Four of the five times, they have thrown a rock through a window to gain entry. The other time, they cut the glass.

Replacing broken windows, ordering new merchandise and waking up to calls from the alarm company has taken its toll on the store's owners, John Webb and Andrew Anusbigian.

"I don't know how many of these losses we can take," Anusbigian said. "Every time they break in, it's a $2,000 bill. We'll stay open until the money runs out; then we'll lock up, board it up and that's it."

The lastest break-in came Tuesdayabout 1:40 a.m.

Another rock through the window. Another batch of cigarettes gone. On Tuesday, the thieves added cigarette lighters, cigars, snuff and batteries to the list.

In all, Anusbigian and Webb say they have lost more than $12,000 from the robberies.

The other burglaries came on Feb. 14, Feb. 21, March 9 and March 17. Police think each of the incidents is related, said Dade City police Capt. Linda Fox.

"You certainly would think so," Fox said. "What they are stealing each time is exactly the same."

So far, no arrests have been made. Store surveillance cameras have proved fruitless for the most part because the suspects wore masks and gloves, Fox said. But she's not giving up.

"We have some very strong leads," she said.

In the meantime, Webb and Anusbigian say they go to bed wondering if either will be awakened by another late-night call.

They've even contemplated sleeping in the store in case the cigarette snatchers make yet another visit.

"It's getting frustrating. It's something you hate to see happen time and again," Webb said.

"Sooner or later they are going to catch these people. I hope it's sooner than later. It's getting kind of expensive."

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