Russell County News-Register

Posted May 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Two local men and Tantus Tobacco in Russell Springs have been indicted for their alleged involvement in the trafficking of contraband cigarettes, according to reports out of Mississippi.

David Brian Cooper, 47, George Bertram, 43, both of Jamestown, and Tantus Tobacco Company of Russell Springs, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Oxford. A trial has been scheduled to begin on July 8.

Cooper, Bertram and the company are accused of wire fraud and conspiring to sell cigarettes through Mississippi to avoid paying federal and state taxes, according to reports. Cooper and Tantus Tobacco are also accused of money laundering.

Cooper’s attorneys and the company filed a motion on 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, reports indicated.

They said witnesses in the case live in Kentucky and Cooper and the company have no ties to Mississippi, according to reports.

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, subsequently underpaying Kentucky about $1.6 million, according to reports.

The reports also said Cooper is accused of selling 320,490 cartons of cigarettes to another Kentucky distributor and faking invoices that he sold them to Tupelo businessman Jerry Burke through J and B Wholesale, and others, to avoid paying taxes on cigarettes. Bertram is accused of helping plan and execute the scheme.

The scheme is alleged to have occurred between October 2007 and January 21, 2009 in Lee County, Mississippi, reports said.

If convicted, Bertram faces up to six years in prison and $1.25 million in fines. For Cooper, it’s 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, according to reports.