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Winnebagos file federal complaint against Kansas

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WICHITA, Kan. - In a 19 count complaint the Winnebago Tribe, five individuals and three Kansas Tribes filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against the state of Kansas. A letter to the state's Attorney General and Tax Department demanded the return of property seized in April by the state for the alleged failure to pay $1.2 million in motor fuel taxes. The state failed to respond to the set deadline and the complaint was filed May 8.

The complaints ask the court for Declaratory and Injunctive relief and claims the state violated the right of tribal sovereignty and violated the U.S. Constitution that allows tribes to enter into agreements of commerce with each other. The state filed civil charges against five individuals and criminal charges against John Blackhawk, chairman of the Winnebago Tribe and Lance Morgan, executive officer of Ho-Chunk Inc. owners of the motor fuel distribution company, HCI Distribution.

The motor fuel was distributed by HCI to the Sac and Fox, Kickapoo, and Iowa Tribes of Kansas for resale.

"Plaintiffs bring this action for declaratory and injunctive relief in response to the Defendants' unprecedented and wrongful interference with the federally-sanctioned economic development activities of the Plaintiff Indian Tribes. The Defendants have enforced and continue to enforce, the Kansas Motor Vehicle Fuel Tax in a manner that all but eradicates the Plaintiff Tribes' sovereign and federal rights to conduct inter-tribal sales of motor vehicle fuel free from state taxation," the complaint states.

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The complaint asks the court to declare the Kansas Motor Fuel Taxation Act invalid in regards to transactions between tribes, to enjoin the state of Kansas from proceeding with charges against the plaintiffs, return the seized property and also asks for monetary damages including expenses lost by the plaintiffs, attorneys fees and punitive damages to exceed $1 million.

The Plaintiffs are the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska; Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska; Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska; Kickapoo Tribe of Indians of the Kickapoo Reservation in Kansas; HCI Distribution; John Blackhawk, chairman of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska; Lance Morgan, executive director of Ho-Chunk Inc.; Erin Morgan, Lance's wife; and Earlene Hradec.

All plaintiffs received civil charges that make them personally liable for the tax revenue the state claims that HCI owes.

The Defendants in the case are Carla J. Stovall, Attorney General for the state of Kansas; Stephen S. Richards, secretary of the Kansas Department of Revenue; Seven Maxwell, assistant Attorney General; Jeffrey Lochow, director of Tax Operations; Jeffrey D. Scott, designee of the Director of Taxation, Kansas Department of Revenue.