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NY won't give back Indian cigarettes

ALBANY -- New York officials are holding a truckload of untaxed Indian-made cigarettes they seized, challenging the recent order of a state judge who said the state had to give them back.

State police and the Cuomo administration say they are not changing their enforcement practices despite the court ruling.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has filed an appeal notice that temporarily halts the order of state Supreme Court Justice David Demarest.

Demarest ruled on June 18 that there was no tax due on the 26,000 cartons of Signal-brand cigarettes going from the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation to HCI Distributors, a subdivision of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, finding no legal basis under current New York tax law or regulations to hold them. They were taken from a tractor-trailer stopped Jan. 23 at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint at Waddington, in northern New York.

Under New York law, cigarettes can be sold to tribe members without the state's tax of $4.35 per pack but should be taxed when sold to non-Indians.

Last November, administration officials said state law subjects unstamped cigarettes to seizure, regardless of the origin or destination.

Richard Azzopardi, spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said: "This administration is enforcing the law and we will continue to do so."

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