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    Mississippi Officials Investigating Alleged Fuel Scheme

    Possibility exists that gas is secretly being brought into Mississippi by barge.

    JACKSON, Miss. -- Authorities are looking into the possibility that fuel is secretly being brought into Mississippi by barge in a scheme to avoid paying state taxes.

    The Associated Press reported that witnesses have said fuel was unloaded from a 3,000-ton tanker pulled close to shore in a remote area along the Mississippi River.

    The Mississippi Department of Transportation is using a helicopter to help identify potential sites where such a fuel transfer could take place.

    The barge presumably would fill a tanker truck that would avoid tax collectors en route to the nearest convenience store, where the driver would sell his load and skip out on an estimated $1,400 in fuel tax.

    "I've been hearing about that barge for years, but we have yet to find it," said Jerry Wilkerson, executive director of the Mississippi Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association. "I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but if it does, it's very rare."

    The state Department of Transportation, however, has received information that such smuggling is occurring and the agency has been using the helicopter for fuel tax evasion enforcement. Willie Huff, the transportation department’s enforcement director, said so far there has been no confirmation of such a scheme. The helicopter has identified 30 locations along the Mississippi River that are "0suspicious spots," he said.

    A barge can haul about 850,000 gallons of fuel, and the tax on such a load would be about $153,000. An 18-wheeler has an 8,000-gallon tank. Shippers are required to unload at terminals certified by the Internal Revenue Service.

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