Feds: Landlord not involved in cigarette case

TUPELO – Jerry Gammons’ directory-listed telephone in Guntown is disconnected, and his cell phone says the voice mail hasn’t been set up yet.
But bits and pieces of information are out there, about the man who rented the 278 Highway 178 warehouse that was raided by the FBI last April.
The warehouse sits chocked full of cartons of cigarettes and small cigars set for auction Oct. 27.
State Auditor Stacey Pickering says they are part of a massive multi-state, multi-country scheme to sell tobacco products without paying state or federal taxes due on them.
Tupelo attorney and businessman Mike Greer woke up Wednesday morning to find himself in the middle of news about the warehouse.
“I didn’t know Gammons,” said Greer, who rented the warehouse to him in March. “He said he was in the cigarette distribution business.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is part of the investigation into the alleged black market operation, declines to say who’s under a legal dark cloud, but Thursday, in a rare revelation, a spokesperson for the office said Greer is not one of them.
“Greer just rented the property,” said Krisi Allen.
That backs up Greer’s contentions late Wednesday that he’s not involved with the case.
“I can promise you I have no connection to anything going on there,” he said. “I was as surprised as anybody else.”
Thursday, Greer said he has been asked by family and friends what was going on.
Greer bought the rural Lee County property while Mississippi Spring Co. occupied it a few years ago. MSC vacated after about a year, leaving Greer without a tenant.
Gammons first leased the building March through May as GCORP LLC, then extended through June and later asked to stay until the end of September.
Unbeknown to Greer, the FBI raided it April 14 and seized thousands of untaxed tobacco products.
Records filed with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office show GCORP LLC was created in October 2001 by Jerry W. Gammons of Brandon. He’s also listed as manager of Zebe LLC at 1004 CR 833, Guntown.
GCORP also shows up as the client for lobbyists Barbara Blackmon and Gloria Williamson, former state senators, and Al Sage, a longtime Capitol lobbyist. On lobbying forms, GCORP uses the Guntown address. His listed telephone numbers answer as disconnected and not in service.
In a Google.com search, Gammons shows up as the author of a 2003 letter to the U.S. International Trade Commission asking for a classification on non-tobacco cigarettes from India, as the consignee on Z-Best little cigars coming via ocean from Brazil and as an exhibitor at a tradeshow, Southern Showcase. GCORP also is listed as a defendant in a New Mexico lawsuit against what’s described as non-compliant tobacco manufacturers.
However, Gammons’ name has not shown up as an active defendant accused of anything by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oxford.
Neither have the names of eight people listed on Greer’s warehouse door as owners of the tobacco products inside. Their addresses range from Kentucky and New York to Illinois, Indiana and Georgia. Gammons is not among them.
As Gammons’ lease ran out, Greer said Gammons told him he was going out of business because the Mississippi Legislature had raised the state tax on cigarettes.
Then, the Mississippi Tax Commission called to say it wanted to lease the building with the cigarettes until the end of October.
Public documents exist about a second warehouse, at 120 N. Front St., Tupelo, raided by the FBI in May.
Tupeloan Jerry Burke, who once owned the Front Street property, is scheduled to plead guilty Nov. 24 for his involvement with the contraband cigarette operation. Documents claim he piloted a plane to traffic the tobacco products and was part of the operation beyond the property sale.
The U.S. government has taken control of the plane, the property and $1.89 million in cash it says was paid to a “confidential informant,” who brokered deals between conspirators from May 2007 through February 2009.
Mississippi State Tax Commission will sell the nearly 1 million cartons at a public auction there Oct. 27, with proceeds going to the state, federal and local agencies involved with the investigation.
Pickering said Thursday proceeds could be as much as $5 million.

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

Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal