SENECA FALLS — The Cayuga Indian Nation of New York is asking state and Seneca County officials to stop an out-of-state tribe from selling untaxed cigarettes and gas from a new convenience store in Seneca Falls.
Attorneys representing the Cayuga Nation sent a letter to Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porsch asking him to take immediate action to prevent the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma from selling untaxed items from its Skydancer Smoke Shop on East Bayard Street.
The Cayugas’ main concern is that the Seneca-Cayuga tribe is not recognized by the state government as having a reservation in New York, which would grant it tax-exempt status.
“We believe that this commercial activity by the Seneca-Cayuga is unlawful in as much as this convenience store is not situated on the Tribe’s ’qualified reservation,’ as that term is defined by the New York Tax Law,” the letter signed by attorney Daniel French said. “This conclusion is self-evident since the Seneca-Cayuga do not have a ’qualified reservation’ anywhere within the state. Further, without a ‘qualified reservation,’ the Seneca-Cayuga cannot enjoy the status of being a reservation seller.”
According to a press release issued by the tribe Tuesday, the letter was sent to Porsch after Gov. David Paterson and the state Department of Taxation did not address the tribe’s concerns.
Porsch, the governor’s office, Seneca-Cayuga officials and a Skydancer Smoke Shop manager did not return phone calls or respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
The Seneca-Cayuga tribe also owns land parcels in the towns of Aurelius and Montezuma. At various points between 2004 and 2006, the tribe spoke of plans to open a full-scale casino and resort somewhere in Cayuga County. In early 2008, however, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected a land-into-trust application filed by the Seneca-Cayugas that sought to build a casino complex.
The Cayugas have argued that they are allowed to sell untaxed cigarettes because their Lake Side Trading convenience stores in Union Springs and Seneca Falls are located on the nation’s recognized reservation.
The Seneca-Cayuga’s new smoke shop opened two weeks ago, according to the Cayugas’ press release.
Outside the store on Tuesday afternoon, cars lined up to get to the shop’s gas pumps. Inside, empty boxes of the Seneca-Cayuga Skydancer cigarette brand filled the store’s shelves.
According to the Cayugas’ press release, Cayuga Nation officials purchase untaxed cigarettes from the Seneca-Cayuga’s store and sent evidence of the purchase to Porsch’s office.
The Cayuga Nation was recently in court after Seneca and Cayuga counties attempted to prosecute the tribe for possessing untaxed cigarettes.
The case eventually made it to the state Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, where the judges ruled in a split 4-3 decision that the tribe has a “qualified reservation” and that the counties cannot prosecute the tribe for selling untaxed cigarettes from its stores.
The judges also noted that only the state has the authority to collect taxes on sales to non-Indian customers, and a system needed to be put in place to ensure sales to members of the tribe were not taxed.
The state attempted to collect those taxes this summer, but an injunction was issued by a federal district court after several tribes, including the Cayugas, filed a lawsuit claiming the state’s actions are illegal.
The district court ruled in favor of the state, but the tribes are appealing the decision and the injunction remains in effect.
Staff writer Nate Robson can be reached at 282-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenRobson.