Tribe Loses Challenge to Rules on Tobacco Record-Keeping

WASHINGTON (CN) — Sending a record-keeping challenge over cigarette sales up in smoke, a federal judge refused to let a Nebraska-based tribe duck a law that curbs tobacco trafficking.

Attorneys for the Winnebago Tribe initiated the dispute last year in refusing to schedule a records inspection requested by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Citing their “serious doubt” about the applicability of the federal Contraband Cigarettes Trafficking Act, the tribe agreed only to let the ATF inspect its records related to “non-native sales,” and the inspection was done at an off-reservation facility.

The tribe’s economic development arm, Ho-Chunk Inc., soon brought a suit in Washington, joined by three subsidiaries.

“They argue that, while much of the CCTA may apply to them, the act’s record-keeping provisions do not,” U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper wrote in a ruling Wednesday.

“The trouble is that neither the statute nor its implementing regulations support that reading,” he added.

Granting the U.S. government summary judgment, Cooper noted that the whole point of the CCTA was to remedy “large-scale operations of interstate cigarette bootlegging.”

“To the extent the goal was to cut down on cigarette taxation avoidance, it would have made little sense to wholly exempt tribal agencies and instrumentalities from the act — thus offering cigarette bootlegging organizations a clearly demarcated shelter from enforcement,” the 15-page opinion states. “By the same token, to the extent the goal was to aid states and localities in enforcing their cigarette taxation regimes, it would have been counterproductive to sweep the agencies of those governmental entities within the CCTA’s ambit.”

Neither the Justice Department nor the Winnebago Tribe responded to a request for comment.

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