State likely to gain seized smokes

TUPELO – Millions of dollars of black market cigarettes, seized in at least two local raids, are expected to be forfeited today to the state of Mississippi, which has plans to sell them and put the proceeds into the state treasury.
Their value could be as high as $10 million.
This news is scheduled to become public at a 10 a.m. news conference, set for a warehouse at 278 Highway 178, outside Tupelo.
The facility and one at 120 N. Front St., Tupelo, were raided in late April and May when more than 1 million cartons of untaxed, discount-brand cigarettes were discovered.
The State Auditor’s Office, which called the news conference, says the discovery is the largest known in U.S. history.
What may not be discussed today are the identities and legal circumstances of seven more people alleged to be linked to the multi-state blackmarket cigarette operation.
Documents posted on the door of the Lee County warehouse say that Karei McDonald, a special agent for the Auditor’s Office, took possession of the tobacco products about 3:45 p.m. Sept. 30 from FBI Special Agent Matthew Bullwinkle. Bullwinkle was involved in the initial tobacco raids and had secured the seized products.
Listed on the door of the Highway 178 warehouse, the latest people named part of the operation are:
– Pete Karfias of Elgin, Ill.
– Charles H. Wells of Hopkinsville, Ky.
– Peter Bello of Louisville, Ky.
– Jeff Uvezian of Great Neck, N.Y.
– Al Harris of Salmanca, N.Y.
– Kent Klee of Newport, Ky.
– Barry Sales of Clarksdale, Ga.
None has been indicted in the U.S. District of Northern Mississippi, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office is believed to be developing cases against them, as it has against Jerry Burke of Tupelo and Randy Benham of Memphis.
Burke and Denham were mentioned prominently in federal documents filed to allow the government to seize the cigarettes the Front Street property, a plane and nearly $2 million in cash.
Burke will plead guilty to his part Nov. 24. No information is available yet about Benham.

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

Patsy R. Brumfied/NEMS Daily Journal