Feds gain money, seek vehicles in tobacco case forfeits

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Federal prosecutors completed steps Friday to take $1.5 million and vehicles from blackmarket cigarette scheme defendants.
Thursday, they asked the U.S. District Court of Northern Mississippi clerk to declare a default over the money seized from Michael Kent Klee, who owned tobacco sales businesses in Kentucky and Olive Branch.
They also asked the same for property belonging to Jerry Burke of Tupelo and Charles H. Wells of Kentucky.
David Crews, the clerk of the court, declared the property in default because none of the defendants objected to the seizures. Friday, he finalized the forfeit of the cash.
Klee pleaded guilty May 25 to two counts of illegal cigarette sales and making false statements about them to federal agents.
A provision of his guilty plea was to forfeit up to $1.5 million.
The government says the money and vehicles are subject to forfeit because they came from proceeds traceable to the men’s unlawful activity.
Klee has not been sentenced but faces up to 23 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Burke, who is serving a prison sentence, owned a 2007 Cadillac Escalade, which prosecutors say was used in his illegal tobacco scheme dealings.
Wells also is in prison for similar dealings. The government wants to keep two trucks and a 2006 Cadillac CTS belonging to him.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com