Judge Denies N.Y. Tribe's Request to Sell Cigarettes

Cayuga Indian Nation had been forced to cease c-store sales over taxes

AUBURN, N.Y. -- A request by the Cayuga Indian Nation to resume selling tax-free cigarettes has been rejected by a state judge, reported the Associated Press. The central New York tribe was seeking an injunction barring Cayuga and Seneca counties from enforcing state tax laws regulating cigarette sales.

The Indian nation was forced to stop selling cigarettes after sheriff's deputies in Seneca and Cayuga counties simultaneously raided the tribe's Lake Side Trading convenience stores in Union Springs and Seneca Falls and seized 17,600 cartons of cigarettes worth more than [image-nocss] half a million dollars on November 25.

Deputies blocked the entrances to both stores, turning customers away while other officers carried out boxes of merchandise and cigarettes for loading onto trailers. Employees were told to leave the stores.

County officials said the stores were violating state law by selling cigarettes without charging the required tax and they owed $485,000 in state excise taxes. Both counties have been trying for about three years to force the Cayugas to pay taxes on sales of cigarettes and gasoline at their c-stores.

At the time of the raids, Seneca County District Attorney Richard Swinehart and Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann said the two stores were not on sovereign Indian land or on reservation land, so they must be treated as ordinary private businesses illegally selling untaxed cigarettes.

The Cayugas argue they are a sovereign nation and exempt from state and local taxes.

The Cayugas asked state Supreme Court Judge Kenneth Fisher, of Monroe County, for an injunction on grounds that the searches were illegal and that the counties are trying to enforce a law that is not in effect. The counties say otherwise; they argued that the Cayugas' LakeSide Trading stores are not on sovereign, tax-free reservation land and that it is illegal to possess and sell unstamped cigarettes on nonreservation land, Seneca County District Attorney Richard Swinehart said.

The Cayugas do not have a reservation in New York.

In 2001, the Cayugas won a joint $247.9 million federal court judgment over their claim to 64,000 acres of land in Cayuga and Seneca counties. But the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the judgment in 2005 and dismissed the tribe's entire land claim, saying they had waited too long to reclaim their land.

Since then, the Cayugas have been buying property in the land claim area while pursuing federal trust status for the territory, according to AP. Federal trust lands are exempt from local and state law.