Kentucky cigarette manufacturer pays $750,000, pleads guilty in contraband case

A Russell County cigarette manufacturer paid $750,000 this week after pleading guilty to conspiring to engage in contraband-cigarette trafficking, according to U.S. Attorney David J. Hale in Louisville.

Hale announced the payment from Tantus Tobacco LLC in a news release Tuesday.

Tantus admitted that in 2008, it sold cigarettes to Charles Wells, a distributor in Hopkinsville, but helped create false documentation that it had sold the cigarettes to Jerry Burke, a wholesaler in Tupelo, Miss., according to a court document.

That allowed Tantus to avoid paying into an escrow account that was required under the 1990s settlement of state lawsuits against cigarette makers.

The payment from Tantus consisted of $200,000 to Kentucky; $60,000 to the office of Attorney Jack Conway; and $490,000 to the federal government.

As part of the company's plea deal, charged were dropped against Tantus owner David Brian Cooper and attorney George Bertram.

Tantus was implicated in a larger investigation of efforts to avoid payments on cigarettes.

Wells, Burke and Burke's partner, Randy Benham, also pleaded guilty in the case.

Tantus makes Berkley brand cigarettes.