BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - A Seneca Nation businessman who is challenging a federal law that makes it illegal to ship cigarettes through the mail called the seizure of thousands of cartons of his cigarettes from a delivery truck "clear retaliation" for his lawsuit.
The cigarettes were seized Monday, the day before lawyers for Aaron Pierce and 140 members of the Seneca Free Trade Association were due in U.S. District Court in Buffalo to continue their challenge to the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act.
State tax agents pulled over the truck owned by Pierce's AJ's Wholesale LLC of Irving as it was making deliveries between Seneca reservations in western New York.
Taxation and Finance spokesman Brad Maione confirmed cigarettes were seized because they did not bear state tax stamps as required by law. The cigarettes were on state property between the Cattaraugus and Allegany reservations when the seizure took place, he said.
Maione declined to comment Tuesday on Pierce's claim of retaliation or to release more information. He said an investigation was ongoing.
Lawyers were in U.S. District Court in Buffalo on Tuesday afternoon for a hearing on the new law that prohibits cigarette sellers from delivering tobacco by mail and requires them to comply with taxing regulations in the locations where they do business.
The Seneca businesses asked a judge to stop the government from enforcing the PACT Act while they appeal a recent court ruling that upheld the mail ban while putting a hold on the taxation provisions.
That split ruling also is being appealed by the government, whose lawyers argue that sellers should have to comply with laws in the areas where their products are delivered.
Seneca-owned businesses in western New York dominate the mail-order cigarette market.
Pierce said agents who conducted the seizure in the Cattaraugus County town of Dayton on Monday left his driver and boxes of melting candy along the side of the road.
"This outrageous seizure is clear retaliation for my company's litigation in federal court," he said.
The issue of taxing cigarette sales has caused conflict between the state and its Indian nations for decades.