Burke sentence: 34 months for illegal tobacco scheme

By Patsy R. Brumfield / NEMS Daily Journal

GREENVILLE – Jerry Burke of Tupelo will report to prison Jan. 22 to spend a 34-month term for his part in a multi-state scheme to sell black-market cigarettes.

Burke, 68, also was ordered to pay $525,000 restitution to the Department of Revenue and the attorney general’s office of South Carolina, the state where the taxes were avoided by bringing the cigarettes into Mississippi for illegal distribution.

Other documents show Burke forfeited $1.3 million in cash, which reportedly came from the enterprise. The forfeiture has been in the works since before his November 2009 guilty plea and also included an airplane and vehicles.

U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper Jr. sentenced him Wednesday during a nearly two-hour-long hearing. He pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and other states of taxes owed on the cigarettes, of making false reports and of money laundering.

In addition to his public plea agreement, another agreement was sealed in the court record. Typically, these documents include a defendant’s promise to cooperate fully with prosecutors and to testify against others before grand juries or at trials.

Other defendants still await court action on assorted charges of illegal acts associated with the cigarette scheme.

Without his plea deal, Burke faced up to 43 years in prison. His co-defendant, Randy Benham, 44, of Memphis, has not yet been sentenced.

Burke was represented by Ashland attorney Tony Farese. Chad Lamar represented the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The black-market cigarette conspiracy were the focus of an extensive FBI undercover operation.

Millions of cigarettes and other tobacco products were seized in at least two Lee County warehouse raids during the spring of 2009. Later, they were sold at auction by state and federal authorities.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons will determine where Burke will spend his prison time.

He remains free on $10,000 bond until he turns himself in by 2 p.m. Jan. 22.