Date set for sentencing in tobacco scheme

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Randy Benham, one of the first accused publicly in a multi-state black-market tobacco scheme centered in north Mississippi, will be sentenced July 30, more than 2 1/2 years after his guilty plea.
Benham, 46, of Cordova, Tenn., pleaded guilty with Jerry G. Burke of Tupelo to a scheme with a New York tobacco importer and a South Carolina warehouser to avoid millions of dollars in federal and state taxes, while making millions for themselves.
He and Burke, 69, pleaded guilty Nov. 24, 2009, to three federal counts of fraud, false statements and money laundering.
In December 2010, Burke was sentenced to 34 months in prison and ordered to forfeit nearly $2 million and his airplane. He’s serving his time in Montgomery, Ala., Federal Prison Camp with an estimated release date of Aug. 8, 2013.
It’s unclear what’s taken so long for Benham to be sentenced, although his presiding judge, W. Allen Pepper Jr., died six months ago in Greenville.
Several times in answer to that question, authorities said Benham was in poor health.
Benham and Burke’s identities became public after a Tupelo tobacco warehouse was raided in the spring of 2009. Their former building, at the corner of East Franklin and North Front streets, sits vacant after its forfeit to the U.S. government.
Benham bought Burke’s tobacco wholesale business in October 2006, and Burke remained a paid consultant.
By diverting cigarettes illegally through their Tupelo business, they and others underpaid taxes of $5.4 million to the state of New York and others, and $800,000 to South Carolina.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com