Holley gets delayed sentence in tobacco fraud case

Court NewsBy Patsy R. Brumfield
Daily Journal

ABERDEEN – South Carolina businessman Wilton Leon Holley was sentenced Wednesday to five years supervised probation for his part in a scheme to avoid taxes and fees due on illegal cigarette sales.

He also was ordered to pay restitution of $400,908.40.

Holley, 70, was first indicted in Mississippi in 2010 in a scheme to defraud the U.S., Mississippi and South Carolina, as well as other states, and the National Association of Attorneys General, of millions owed from the unlawful distribution of cigarettes and of making false monthly tobacco reports.

His case has had some unusual twists and turns since then.

He pleaded guilty in January 2011 before a South Carolina federal judge and was sentenced to 33 months and to pay $405,084 restitution.

One condition of his plea deal and a government request for a lighter sentence was his cooperation with the government’s investigation.

In January 2012, the government filed a sealed motion for leniency, but the South Carolina judge told the government “more details were needed.”

At a subsequent hearing, an assistant U.S. attorney asked the court to nullify Holley’s sentence, allow him to withdraw his guilty plea and send him back to Mississippi because of conflicting information about his level of cooperation.

Back in Mississippi, Holley pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements about the sales, but objected to a pre-sentence report and asked for more time to respond.

Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock presided over his sentencing.

Holley’s case is part of a series of indictments through the Northern District of Mississippi after a Tupelo tobacco wholesale business was busted by the FBI in early 2009.

Investigators charged that its operators were funneling cigarettes or creating false invoices to show sales through the state to help out-of-state distributors avoid state and federal taxes.

Without a plea deal, Holley faced up to 20 years in prison and large fines.

patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com