Two local men and a tobacco company have been indicted in Mississippi for their alleged involvement in the trafficking of contraband cigarettes.
According to the Associated Press, local businessman Brian Cooper, age 47, and attorney George Bertram, age 53, both of Jamestown and Tantus Tobacco Company of Russell Springs pleaded not guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Oxford, Mississippi. A July 8th trial date has been scheduled.
The two men and the company are accused of wire fraud and conspiring to sell cigarettes through Mississippi to avoid paying federal and state taxes. Cooper and Tantus Tobacco Company are also accused of money laundering.
The AP reports attorneys for Cooper and the company filed a motion Wednesday asking that the case be moved to federal court in Kentucky, where they said all the alleged illegal acts are said to have been committed. They said witnesses in the case live in Kentucky and Cooper and the company have no ties to Mississippi.
The indictment alleges Bertram, Cooper, and Tantus Tobacco conspired to commit wire fraud and money laundering by selling cigarettes in Kentucky while falsely reporting that the cigarettes were being sold in Mississippi….underpaying Kentucky about $1.6 million.
Copper is accused of selling 320,490 cartons of cigarettes to another Kentucky distributor and faking invoices that he sold them to Tupelo, Mississippi businessman Jerry Burke through J&B Wholesale, and others to avoid paying taxes on cigarettes. Bertram is accused of helping plan and execute the scheme which allegedly occured between October 2007 and January 2009 in Lee County, Mississippi.
If convicted, attorney George Bertram faces up to six years in prison and $1.25 million in fines. Cooper, if convicted, faces up to 23 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines. The government is also seeking forfeiture of property acquired with the alleged profit from illegal acts.