By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mayor Jack Reed Jr. held the deed to the future of the Tupelo Police Department on Tuesday.
He stood with police and other city officials on land planned for a new police headquarters, property seized through a federal and state contraband cigarette investigation.
After a six-year investigation that included the FBI, the Tupelo Police Department and area U.S. attorney’s and the U.S. Marshal’s offices, the city received the deed for the property that had been used in a scheme to store cigarettes in the 100,000-square-foot warehouse to avoid paying taxes.
Along with the property at Franklin and Front streets, the city of Tupelo will receive cash associated with the undercover operation, which first became public with a raid on the facility in 2009.
Reed wouldn’t give a specific amount the city will receive because the operation is still ongoing. However, it’s expected to be in the range of $1.5-$3 million, which will help build a new police headquarters on the property, near other city and county facilities.
The city already set aside $3.75 million for a new police headquarters during Mayor Ed Neelly’s administration.
The existing building on the property – which at one time housed Milam Manufacturing – will be torn down.
During a news conference announcing the city’s receipt of the property, Reed said it will mean improved facilities for Tupelo police, which currently split departments in two downtown locations.
“It’ll be a fine building and appropriate to the respect the citizens give the Tupelo Police Department,” Reed said.
Police Chief Tony Carleton said having a facility with all the department under one roof will benefit residents and employees.
“We want them to go to one location for any information they need,” he said. “Instead of officers having to get in a car and drive to see someone in another department, they’ll just walk down the hall.”
Tupelo’s police department has 110 officers and 130 overall employees.
Reed, Carleton and other city and police leaders have worked with the architectural firm JBHM to design a potential plan for a new facility.
With Reed’s four-year term as mayor ending in a matter of weeks, Mayor-elect Jason Shelton and the incoming City Council will help determine details for the property.
The land was given to the city through the Federal Equitable Sharing Program, which allows assets forfeited in federal cases to be shared with state and local law enforcement partners to be used for law enforcement purposes.
Daniel McMullen, special agent in charge for the FBI in Mississippi, said this case is an example of how the program was meant to work.
“Through this program, property once used to further criminal activities to the detriment of the public good, will now be used to deter criminal behavior for the benefit of the citizens of Tupelo,” McMullen said in a news release.
The FBI investigation, which used the code name “Operation Secondhand Smoke,” involved companies and individuals in 23 different states and has led to nearly 15 people pleading guilty in related charges.