Burke guilty plea could be tied to tobacco raids

TUPELO – Jerry G. Burke of Tupelo is scheduled to plead guilty Nov. 24 to federal charges possibly related to alleged black market cigarette operations.
New documents filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern Mississippi show notice of Burke’s hearing before Judge W. Allen Pepper in Greenville.
Accusations against Burke were detailed in a May 29 document to seize a Tupelo warehouse where, during a raid three days earlier, federal agents reportedly found thousands of non-taxed cigarettes.
According to the plea notice, Burke he will waive indictment and plead guilty to an “information,” which is a criminal charge that doesn’t come through a grand jury, as an indictment does. What he will be charged with is not public information yet.
Burke’s attorney, Anthony Farese of Ashland, was not available for comment Thursday.
Whether Memphian Randy Benham also has been charged with anything isn’t public information yet, either.
Benhan bought the warehouse from Burke in 2006 and was accused in court documents of having “routinely dealt in contraband cigarettes.”
His attorney, Steve Farese Sr. of Ashland, was not available for comment Thursday.
Earlier court documents and Mississippi Secretary of State records show Burke as the former owner of the warehouse at 120 N. Front St., where agents allegedly found the cigarettes.
A still undisclosed Tupelo location was raided April 14 in the investigation into a tobacco black market with ties from Mississippi to Kentucky and South Carolina
Estimated value of the seized cigarettes is $20 million.
Also seized by the government was the warehouse, a 1982 Beech C90 aircraft registered to Globe Wholesale Inc. and $1.89 million in currency paid to an informant by the tobacco conspirators.
Globe Wholesale Inc. was owned by Burke.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Burke said in July when he was called for a comment about the case.
According to the government, in October 2006, Burke sold Globe Wholesale to Benham for $500,000. Benham changed the name to Globe Distributing.
In February, the company became Global Distribution LLC with the organizer listed as Beverly Noren of Rochester, N.Y.
At that point, sources close to the case said, government investigators took over to deal with the cigarette operation.
Global leased 120 N. Front St. from Benham’s A&A of Tupelo Inc.
When the government petitioned the U.S. District Court to take the Front Street property, prosecutors said “specified unlawful activity” had occurred there.
Globe could sell cigarettes cheaply, they said, because its operators brought them from other states to Mississippi, where the national tobacco tax wasn’t in effect.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

Patsy R. Brumfied/NEMS Daily Journal