Akwesasne leaders say they are tired of being conduit for illegal drugs, tobacco


By Chris Garifo -- Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.

HOGANSBURG, N.Y. (MCT) - The story is an old one that leaders on the Akwesasne Mohawk territory seem to be tiring of: contraband cigarettes, marijuana and drugs being smuggled through reservation lands back and forth between the United States and Canada. ;'It seems like we deal with the question over and over and over again,'' said Leslie Logan, spokesman for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, which governs the U.S. portion of the reservation. ''I've only been with the tribe about a year and a half and, gosh, these have gone around and around.'' The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, which governs the reservation on the Canadian side of the border, has faced a similar problem. ''It's something that our community has been contending with and is continuing to deal with,'' said Brendan F. White, communications specialist for the Mohawk Council. To deal with that, reservation police are working closely with state, federal and provincial law enforcement agencies, officials said. ''When we're going on the reservation to complete enforcement action, we've had complete cooperation from the reservation police,'' said Joseph G. Green, a special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in New York City. ''There is a good partnership that's there and in place.'' For years, the reservation has been the subject of newspaper and television reports about the smuggling. The reservation, which straddles the border and covers areas of New York, Ontario and Quebec, is a favorite conduit for smugglers because of its unique location and the fact that the St. Lawrence River cuts through it. In the past few months, media reports have been produced about how organized crime - biker and Asian gangs and the Mafia - is producing contraband cigarettes in factories on the reservation, which are smuggled into Canada. The profits from the sale of those cigarettes are then used to buy marijuana and ecstasy, which are smuggled through the reservation into the United States. But it's not as if tribal authorities fail to recognize that such traffic is going on. ''Our position has always been and continues to be that certainly the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has a compliance office through which the tobacco manufacturers on the reservation are monitored and regulated,'' Logan said. ''We always get the question, 'how many are there and how many are in compliance with tribal regs?''' The Mohawk Council takes the issue of criminal activity on reservation lands very seriously, Grand Chief Timothy Thompson said. The reservation's police departments on the American and Canadian sides of the border cooperate with each other and with local, state, federal and provincial law enforcement agencies and are working to stop the flow of contraband cigarettes and tobacco and illegal drugs, and weekly reports of such busts show they are having at least some results, Logan said. ''Are we always attempting to stem the tide of any contraband? Of course we are, whether it goes from the American side or from the Canadian side,'' she said. However, because of the reservation's location, it undergoes scrutiny that other Indian lands and border areas don't have to deal with, Logan said. ''What happens is that St. Regis has really become kind of a moving target,'' she said. ''There is also the same thing happening in other points of the border; but it just so happens that because we are so close and because it is a point of entry, that perhaps we're unfairly targeted.'' Sgt. Michael D. Harvey, of the Central St. Lawrence Valley Royal Canadian Mounted Police Detachment, Cornwall, said that 90 percent of the contraband cigarettes entering Canada are coming through reservation lands. ''It's really a serious issue that we've seen the seizures grow,'' he said. ''It's unbelievable the amount of seizures we've seen.'' Harvey provided statistics that show seizures of contraband cigarettes have grown from 28,966 cartons in 2001 to 472,268 in 2006. Through October, seizures last year reached 462,376 cartons. However, Harvey also said reservation police are cooperating fully with efforts to stem the flow of smuggled goods crossing the border. ''Our biggest partner is the Akwesasne Mohawk police,'' he said. ''They on a daily basis are making seizures of marijuana and contraband tobacco.''Copyright (c) 2008, Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.