City given tobacco warehouse seized by FBI

TUPELO — The federal government has handed over a downtown warehouse seized during FBI raids in 2009 to the city of Tupelo.

The FBI, the U.S. attorney’s office and the U.S. Marshals Service made the announcement Tuesday.

Authorities said in a news release that the 100,000-square-foot warehouse was forfeited as the result of an investigation into a nationwide network of retailers, wholesalers, distributors, importers, and manufacturers, who were avoiding cigarette taxes in order to make millions of dollars in profits.

Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said the city will tear down the building and build a new police headquarters at the site.

In the spring of 2009, federal and state law enforcement raided Global Distributors’ tobacco business warehouse and another tobacco storage warehouse. Their contents were sold at auction months later.

Multiple convictions followed on charges of selling cigarettes and other tobacco products through Mississippi to avoid paying federal and state taxes owed elsewhere.

In addition to prison sentences, the convictions yielded forfeits of real property, at least one airplane, vehicles and cash.

Federal officials said the city of Tupelo will reap the benefits of those forfeitures because of its role in cracking the tobacco scheme.

They said because the warehouse was used in the scheme, it became eligible for seizure under the forfeiture laws. Through the Federal Equitable Sharing Program, assets forfeited in federal cases can be shared with local law enforcement agencies for use for law enforcement purposes.

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