Benham sentenced to prison in tobacco scheme

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Randy Benham, part of the first wave of arrests in area tobacco raids more than three years ago, was sentenced to federal prison Monday.
Benham, 46, will turn himself in to a federal prison Aug. 20 to begin serving 12 months, plus one day on a three-count guilty plea he entered in late 2009.
Benham of Cordova, Tenn., was charged with Tupelo’s Jerry Burke, 70, for a scheme to defraud the United States, the state of Mississippi and other states, and the National Association of Attorneys General of millions of dollars in taxes and fees due from the unlawful distribution of tobacco products.
He also was ordered to three years supervised release after his prison sentence is complete.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar and Benham’s attorney, Steve Farese Sr., agreed Benham was unusually cooperative in the investigation of the larger scheme.
He wasn’t fined due to “financial inability,” the government said, but he was ordered to pay $25,000 restitution to the state of South Carolina, where the tobacco taxes were owed.
Benham and Burke’s multi- state scheme also included money laundering and lying about monthly tobacco reports. Each of them faced up to 20 years in prison and $750,000 fines.
“I am grieved and embarrassed about what actions took place,” Benham told Senior Judge Glen H. Davidson at the hearing.
Burke entered prison in 2011 to serve a 34-month sentence and is due to be released in about a year. He forfeited $1.37 million, a vehicle and an airplane to the government.
The pair operated out of Globe Wholesale in downtown Tupelo and hid untaxed cigarette sales to avoid more than $20 million to state and federal taxing agencies. Their facilities were raided in spring 2009.
Since then, the Northern Mississippi U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged at least a dozen others with participation in various other similar tobacco-tax avoidance schemes.
Some defendants pleaded guilty while others await further prosecution.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com errol.castens@journalinc.com