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Cayugas offer to settle NY cigarette tax dispute

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AUBURN, N.Y. (AP) – The Cayuga Indian Nation is offering to permanently settle its cigarette tax dispute with two upstate New York counties.

On July 10, the Appellate Division in Rochester reversed a state judge who blocked the sales at the LakeSide Trading stores in Union Springs and Seneca Falls.

The Cayugas July 13 offered to pay Seneca and Cayuga counties more than $180,000 in legal bills tied to the case and said they would not sue the counties for millions of dollars in damages for lost revenues, legal costs and the value of cigarettes seized from their stores last November.

In exchange, the nation asked the counties not to challenge the Cayugas’ court win, which allowed them to resume selling tax-free cigarettes.

“The Cayuga Nation recognizes that ultimately it is the residents of the counties who will have to pay for this continued legal fight and the Cayuga Nation thinks it will prevail. Unfortunately for the residents of the counties, they will be stuck with the legal fees and ensuing awards that will come through the damage litigation,” said Daniel French, a Syracuse lawyer representing the Cayugas.

Lawmakers in both counties were scheduled to meet July 14 to decide on whether to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

Cayuga County Legislator Raymond Lockwood told The Post-Standard of Syracuse that Cayugas’ offer wasn’t going to sway him.

“If we don’t appeal then we’re conceding it’s a sovereign reservation, and that would give them the right to do anything they want on the land. They wouldn’t be subject to any local laws and it would put gaming back on the table,” Lockwood said.

In late November, sheriff’s deputies in the counties raided the Cayugas’ two LakeSide stores, seizing about 17,600 cartons of cigarettes. The Cayugas estimated the cigarettes were worth more than $500,000.

The counties claimed that because the Cayugas do not have an official reservation, they were violating state tax law. The Cayugas claim the stores lie within their former ancestral homeland. They argue that the territory is a reservation that was established by federal treaty and that it has never been disestablished.

The stores had been selling gas and sundries since the raid. Cigarette sales resumed almost immediately July 10 after the court ruling.

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