GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Three military veterans were formally charged in Grand Rapids 61st District Court Thursday, Jan. 4, in connection with a cigarette smuggling scheme inside the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.
Ken Hammond, Tony Moore and Jeff Bowman are all facing felony charges for reselling non-taxed cigarettes that had been brought into the state illegally from New York.
It is illegal for anybody to sell a tobacco product to another person for resale without being licensed in Michigan.
Moore and Bowman are being represented by defense attorney Frank Stanley who took the rare step to represent co-defendants in the same case.
"I think it's absurd these gentlemen got charged under these circumstances," Stanley said. "There's no jury that's ever going to convict them."
Stanley says Moore and Bowman were never warned they could potentially face criminal charges if they continued to sell cigarettes to the veterans at a small mark-up. The cigarettes were brought into the state from a Native American reservation in New York.
"I chose these two individuals (Moore and Bowman) because neither of them had any notice that this was improper and (the sale of cigarettes) been done openly for years," Stanley said. "They believed there was an exemption and they had the right to do it."
Bowman told us this summer before the criminal charges were filed that the group's intent was to help fellow veterans at the home by selling the packs of cigarettes for half the retail cost.
"We were just doing it as a favor for the veterans here at the home," Bowman said.
Veterans' advocates are concerned the men are being picked on for selling cheap smokes to veterans who were living on a small fixed income.
"What's the state going to gain by prosecuting these three guys?" advocate Greg McNeil said. "Do they have a geriatric ward in the state prison system for special needs guys? The state has nothing to gain from it and will spend a lot of money (to prosecute)."
At least two of the three veterans charged are considered disabled.
Schuette approved the charges in late December after a months-long investigation by the Michigan State Police that found more than 3,000 cigarettes were sold at the facility illegally by the trio.
Schuette's been adamant during his time in office he bases all of his decisions strictly on the law even though the decision might not be a popular one.
"The evidence was clear and charges were filed," Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said last month.
Hammond is the third defendant in this case. Documentation shows he was warned to stop selling cigarettes and we are told he didn't stop after the warning. Hammond and the others were kicked out of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and have now found homes in other places across the state.
A fourth person, Thomas Harrison, was also charged in connection with the transporting of the cigarettes into the facility.
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