Two men, tobacco company indicted for contraband cigarettes

OXFORD — Two Kentucky men and a tobacco company have been indicted for their alleged involvement in the trafficking of contraband cigarettes.

David Brian Cooper, 47, George Bertram, 53, both of Jamestown, Ky., and Tantus Tobacco Co of Russell Springs, Ky., pleaded not guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Oxford. Trial is scheduled for July 8.

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 Co. are also accused of money laundering.

Attorneys for the 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, 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, Miss., businessman Jerry Burke through J&B Wholesale, and others to avoid paying taxes on cigarettes. Bertram is accused of helping plan and executing the scheme.

The scheme is alleged to have occurred between October 2007 and Jan. 21, 2009 in Lee County.

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.

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