Russell County company pleads guilty to contraband-cigarettes charges

bestep@herald-leader.comApril 1, 2014 

A cigarette manufacturing company in Russell County pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to traffic in contraband cigarettes, according to a release from U.S. Attorney David J. Hale.

Tantus Tobacco LLC agreed to forfeit $490,000 to the government and pay a total of $260,000 in restitution to the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Attorney General Jack Conway's office.

As part of the deal, criminal charges will be dropped against company executive David Brian Cooper and attorney George Bertram, who were initially charged along with the company.

Tantus was implicated in a larger investigation of efforts to avoid paying taxes and a fee on cigarettes required under the settlement of state lawsuits against cigarette makers.

Tantus admitted it sold cigarettes to Charles Wells, a distributor in Hopkinsville, but helped create false documentation that it had sold them to Jerry Burke, a wholesaler in Tupelo, Miss., according to a court document.

That allowed Tantus to avoid payment into the manufacturer escrow account, Hale's office said.

Wells, Burke and a partner of his named Randy Benham pleaded guilty earlier. Wells agreed to forfeit $3 million worth of property.

Robert and Mike Ammerman of Farmer's Tobacco Co. in Cynthiana also pleaded guilty to failing to report sales in order to avoid taxes. They agreed to forfeit $8 million.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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