Unsealed case reveals more tobacco charges

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – A July 8 trial date is set for a contraband tobacco case sealed in federal court more than a year.
Under indictment are David Brian Cooper, 47, George Bertram, 53, both of Jamestown, Ky., and Tantus Tobacco Co of Russell Springs, Ky.
They are accused of wire fraud and conspiring to sell cigarettes through Mississippi to avoid paying federal and state taxes.
Cooper and Tantus also are accused of money laundering.
Tuesday, Cooper and Bertram appeared before Magistrate Judge David Sanders. The pair pleaded not guilty and Bertram was released on $10,000 bond.
They were indicted in January 2012 and activity in the case was sealed until April 25. In 2012, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oxford asked to have it sealed because of attorney scheduling problems and that the defendants sought to “resolve this matter.”
The indictment accuses them of conspiring with Tupelo businessman Jerry Burke through J&B Wholesale, and others to avoid paying taxes on cigarettes.
Burke and nearly a dozen others were indicted, pleaded guilty and served prison time after federal and state agents raided the downtown Tupelo business and other sites. The charges ranged across several states.
Copper is accused of selling 320,490 cartons of cigarettes to another Kentucky distributor and faking invoices that he sold them to Burke, underpaying Kentucky some $1.6 million.
The scheme is alleged to have occurred between October 2007 and Jan. 21, 2009 in Lee County.
If convicted Bertram faces up to six years in prison and $1.25 million in fines. For Cooper, it’s up to 23 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines.
They also face forfeits of property acquired by the alleged profit from illegal acts.
Chief Judge Michael P. Mills will preside over the trail set in Oxford.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com