Burke co-defendant Benham sentenced to prison on tobacco-tax scheme

By PATSY R. BRUMFIELD

OXFORD – Randy Benham, part of the first wave of arrests in area tobacco raids more than three years ago, was sentenced to federal prison today.
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 completed.
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.
Burke has been in prison since 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 facilites were raided in the spring of 2009 and months later the Mississippi Auditor’s Office and federal agencies auctioned off the confiscated tobacco products.
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.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons will determine where Benham spends his prison time. Burke is in a Montgomery, Ala., facility.

• Read Tuesday’s Daily Journal for more.