Crime & Courts

Man stole cigarettes from more than 15 Midlands stores, police say

How Richland County police caught the ‘Cigarette Bandit’

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott tells how police were able to track down a suspect who robbed 15 convenience stores in February and March 2019. He was known as the "Cigarette Bandit" for stealing large amounts of cigarette cartons.
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Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott tells how police were able to track down a suspect who robbed 15 convenience stores in February and March 2019. He was known as the "Cigarette Bandit" for stealing large amounts of cigarette cartons.

The “Cigarette Bandit” has stolen his last pack, according to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

Sammie McCullough, 49, is accused of robbing more than 15 convenience stores between February and March, Lott said.

The so-called Cigarette Bandit smashed windows and doors at stores and used shopping baskets to snatch cigarettes and cases of beer, Lott said. He sold that merchandise back to small mom-and-pop corner stores.

The spree began on Feb. 17, when officials say McCullough hit a Dollar General on William Hardin Road. Lott said McCullough preferred the “smash and grab” method as he allegedly robbed dollar stores, gas stations and drug stores.

The spree when on until March 19, when McCullough reportedly robbed his last business, a Food Lion on Two Notch Road.

Lott said he’s seen a crime spree like this before.

“They get on a roll, and they won’t stop until they get caught,” he said.

McCullough was feeding a “bad crack habit,” according to Lott.

After one robbery, Columbia police officers and Richland County deputies chased McCullough, but he was able to get away, Lott said. From evidence gathered in that robbery, the two departments pieced together who the suspect was.

On March 20, investigators were tipped off to McCullough’s location, and authorities arrested him.

Lott and Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook heralded McCullough’s capture as an example of the two law enforcement agencies’ cooperative power.

“We can never overstate the value of our partnerships,” Holbrook said. “Whether it’s gun investigations, gang investigations or crimes such as this, those partnership are force multipliers for both of us.”

As for the shops that bought the stolen merchandise, Lott said the department is looking into charging those businesses too.

“They know the stuff is stolen,” he said. “We’re just not ignoring that.”

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.

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