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State attorney general appeals cigarette decision

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CANTON - A seized cigarette load which Supreme Court Judge David Demarest ordered released will remain in the state’s custody for now.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office filed a notice of appeal June 22 on Judge Demarest’s ruling, which determined the state lacked the legal authority for the seizure of 26,000 cartons of cigarettes. Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, declined further comment Monday.

The office’s action means the state retains custody of the cigarettes at least until the appeal process is finished. St. Lawrence County District Attorney Nicole Duve has also appealed the decision.

William Cagle was driving a tractor-trailer Jan. 23 in the town of Waddington that was carrying approximately 5 million Signal brand cigarettes from Ohserase Manufacturing LLC, Hogansburg. His reported destination was HCI Distribution Corp. on Winnebago tribal lands near Omaha, Neb.

Mr. Cagle was stopped at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint, and state police seized 26,000 cartons of cigarettes valued by agents at up to $2 million, according to court documents.

HCI Distribution sought order for the cigarettes’ release and argued in court that the seized product was not subject to state tax because it was heading to an out-of-state reservation.

Assistant Attorney General Aaron M. Baldwin, Albany, who is defending state police in the case, worried any untaxed cigarettes coming from the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation are going to Nebraska but making their way back into New York for sale and therefore should be subject to tax.

Attorney Joseph Messineo, who represented HCI in court, and St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Chief Ronald W. LaFrance could not be reached for comment on Monday.

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