- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

BARAGA, Mich. (AP) - A man accused of large-scale cigarette trafficking pleaded guilty Thursday in an investigation linked to an Upper Peninsula Indian reservation.

John Varline admitted buying 1,680 cartons - more than 300,000 cigarettes - from an undercover federal agent in 2009. The cigarettes were shipped from Nevada and were illegal because they didn’t bear a stamp confirming that Michigan’s $2-a-pack tax had been paid.

Starting in 2006, agents investigated cigarette trafficking by several people associated with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and a store on the reservation, Keweenaw Bay Outfitters, according to an indictment filed last year. Varline operated the store in Baraga in the western Upper Peninsula.

Federal prosecutors are recommending that he be sentenced to 10 months in prison - at the low end of the guidelines - although U.S. District Judge David Lawson will have much discretion. Varline will return to federal court in Detroit on June 16.

Joseph Fish and Beth Fish face trial on March 17. A third person is also charged.

The indictment against Varline said untaxed cigarettes were sold at his store and elsewhere across the U.S. It also describes many more deals, involving millions of cigarettes, beyond the one deal in Varline’s guilty plea.

The government has seized trailers, trucks, snowmobiles, watches, a boat and at least $125,000.

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