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BURNSVILLE, Minn. -- Tobacco products were cleared this week from the shelves of a SuperAmerica gas station in Burnsville that received one of the strictest penalties known in Minnesota, or anywhere in the United States, for selling cigarettes to minors.
The convenience store was banned from selling tobacco products for a year after police caught clerks there selling to juveniles for the fifth time in two years. SuperAmerica also must pay a $10,000 fine by March 18. The Burnsville City Council voted last month on the penalty.
Enon, Ohio-based Speedway SuperAmerica last week asked the Dakota County District Court to stop Burnsville from taking away the store' s license, questioning the city's authority in the matter and arguing that the fine was arbitrarily large. The request was denied for now, but the court will hear the case March 15.
SuperAmerica, which operates more than 2,600 convenience stores, estimates the store stands to lose about $600, 000 in sales -- about a fifth of the store's business -- and could close down entirely. A company spokesperson called the fine "excessive," and said the company is hopeful the court will overturn the council's ruling later this month.
In the fifth violation, the Burnsville clerk had worked at the store for just a few days. She used an automated age-checking device, but apparently misread it. She and the store's manager were both fired, the company said.
Neither the city's ordinance nor state law specifies a maximum fine for violating tobacco laws. But the city council said it was waiting for an opportunity to send a message to all retailers that selling tobacco to minors would not be tolerated.
"Personally, I just think it was an arrogant attitude. They didn't think any city council would have the guts to do this," said City Councilwoman Liz Workman, who in 1999 helped design the city' s tough tobacco policy, which has fines and penalties nearly double that of surrounding communities.