More guilty pleas in contraband cigarette case

GREENVILLE – Two more guilty pleas have come in a multistate blackmarket tobacco ring, the U.S. Attorney’s Office reports.
Monday, Mitchell Sivina, 38, of Doral, Fla., pleaded guilty to two counts of interstate transportation of stolen cigarettes and money laundering.
He was released on $15,000 bond pending sentencing.
On Friday, Charles H. Wells, 60, of Hopkinsville, Ky., pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud, making false tobacco reports and money laundering.
The men join Jerry Burke of Tupelo and Randy Benham of Memphis in a scheme to sell stolen cigarettes without paying state or federal excise taxes.
Burke and Benham also await sentencing but have been cooperating with investigators since their guilty pleas in November.
Sivina faces up to 30 years in prison and $750,000 fines, while Wells could receive up to 43 years in prison and $750,000 fine.
As part of his plea, Wells also agreed to forfeit more than $3 million in real and personal property.
Wells is accused of helping finance the purchase of some $2 million in Marlboro cigarettes from Sivina, stolen in 2006 from a Kentucky truck stop.
These and millions of other cigarettes were brought to Burke’s Lee County warehouses, where they avoided federal taxes because of Mississippi’s earlier agreement in a national tobacco settlement.
The conspiracy was aimed at selling the untaxed cigarettes to dealers in states where the taxes could be avoided.
Sivina admitted he brought 1,026 cases of Marlboros from Miami to a Peppertown warehouse and sold them to Burke and Wells.
Prosecutors said that on one occasion, Sivina flew into the Tupelo airport on a private plane and received $350,000 in a cash box, which was thrown over the airport fence to Sivina.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal