Mississippi recently became the last state in America to officially end Prohibition — 87 years after the approval of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
As if to mark the occasion, the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of Mississippi this week noted the guilty plea of a 77-year-old Hancock County man who was running an illegal liquor production operation so grand that it made all those good-ole-boy moonshiners of decades past look tame by comparison.
U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst said Willie Necaise Jr. made so much illegal whiskey that he avoided more than $898,000 in excise taxes to the federal government and another $369,000 in state liquor taxes. That’s a tax dodge of more than $1.25 million.
Necaise pleaded guilty last week in federal court to two charges. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although the plea agreement says the judge also can order him to pay restitution.
The scope of his operation was impressive. The state Alcoholic Beverage Control found that Necaise had bought 569,000 pounds of sugar over time and was having large quantities of propane gas, used to heat the ingredients during production, delivered to a rural shed in Hancock County.
After the ABC watched him buy a pallet of sugar in nearby Slidell, agents raided the property. They found 40 55-gallon drums of mash, a 200-gallon stainless steel cooker, sugar and other products used to make liquor.
Based on the records of Necaise’s sugar purchases, agents determined that he produced at least 74,000 gallons of taxable whiskey.
Even though liquor and other alcoholic beverages are readily available in many counties in Mississippi, there apparently is still a market for the less-expensive homemade stuff — probably because moonshine avoids all those taxes. But liquor is a tightly controlled business for many reasons, and today it’s rarely worth the risk of selling moonshine.
As for Mississippi’s 29 dry counties, they don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to the alcohol bill Gov. Tate Reeves signed two weeks ago. It only makes possession of alcohol legal throughout the state. The bill specifically does not legalize the sale of alcohol products. Residents of a city or county would have to approve that in a referendum.