New Haven man gets two years for stealing 2,300 cartons of cigarettes

Superior Court in Milford, Conn. on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

Superior Court in Milford, Conn. on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD – A one-time "trusted employee" of a Post Road tobacco distributorship was sent to prison Wednesday for stealing more than 2,000 cartons of cigarettes from the business. 

Luis Cruz, 36, had pleaded no contest to a charge of first-degree larceny before Judge Peter Brown in August. 

A plea deal in the case called for a 12-year prison sentence to be suspended after Cruz serves two years, followed by five years of probation.

According to an arrest warrant, Cruz was fired after being caught red-handed stealing 30 cartons of cigarettes in July 2021 from Montano Distributors.

Company officials told police they reviewed surveillance video which allegedly depicted Cruz putting the box of cigarettes on a cart that contained other parts of an order, appearing to conceal it under others.

Surveillance video allegedly showed Cruz had stolen a total of 2,340 cartons of cigarettes worth $243,627.40 on more than 60 occasions.

Police said it was “highly probable” more cigarettes were stolen, but the video surveillance available only went back six months, according to the warrant.

In court Wednesday, Cruz declined to speak, but his mother said the 36-year-old father is “a good kid” who had never been in trouble before. 

She tearfully told the judge Cruz’s children would come home from school Wednesday unaware that Cruz, a constant presence in their lives, wouldn’t be there.

“This is a shock to us,” the woman said. “He knows what he did was wrong and he’ll never be in this situation again.”

His lawyer, Erin Field, said Cruz had stolen the cigarettes to help support his family.

“He is extremely remorseful over this,” she said. “Unfortunately, he was just in a situation that got the better of him over a period of time. He’s not a drug user, he doesn’t drink, this was for his family, and it’s not a good excuse, it’s just an explanation.”

The owner of the business, Gary Montano, told the judge that monetary loss of from the theft was one thing – but that costs to borrow money and fines levied by the business’ financial institution as a result of the larceny went “above and beyond” the restitution ordered in the case.

He declined to be more specific, but called the loss “substantial.”

The judge signed civil orders of restitution calling on Cruz to pay $221,479 to Montano’s insurance company, as well as $25,000 to Montano to reimburse the business for the deductible it paid as part of its claim.

Before imposing sentence, the judge noted the case had been the subject of extensive pretrial hearings involving lawyers in the case.

“I do believe that the sentence the court is going to impose is an appropriate disposition,” he said.

Ethan.Fry@hearstmediact.com