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Charges laid in alleged tobacco contraband case
Jessica Earle, ctvedmonton.ca
Published Friday, April 15, 2011 7:08PM MDT
The Chief of the Montana First Nation and three others will have to answer to the courts after the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) pressed charges related to the handling of 16 million cigarettes.
In the largest seizure of its kind in the province's history, officials removed the items from a reserve south of Edmonton back on January 5th. They claim the tobacco was part of an illegal smuggling operation and was not properly imported or labeled.
"If someone wants to import cigarettes or wholesale within the province of Alberta they have to be legally registered," said AGLC spokesperson Lynn Hutchings-Mah.
"The tobacco is currently in a secure facility. It's considered evidence in the court case and it's up to the courts to determine what happens to the product ultimately."
Robbie Dickson, Jason Lucas and Dwayne Ouimet are accused of not being licensed to import tobacco into the province for resale.
The three men, along with Montana Cree Chief Carolyn Buffalo, also face two charges each for allegedly storing tobacco products that are not marked for legal sale in Alberta and for allegedly possessing more than 1,000 cigarettes.
Hutchings-Mah says the province believes it's lost $3 million in tax revenue from what it considers contraband items.
The violations come with a maximum fine of $20,000, six-month prison terms or both. If convicted, the individuals could also receive an additional fine of up to three times the amount of tax avoided.
Dickson and Buffalo launched a lawsuit against the AGLC shortly after the seizure. At the time Dickson told CTV he doesn't believe he needs a provincial licence because the intent was to sell the cigarettes only on reserves.
"We answer to the federal government - we don't necessarily like to deal with the provincial governments," he said.
"They said to me, ‘everything you are doing is legitimate. Here is the renewal of your licence' and they wished me luck…. We didn't expect any interference from the province."
Chief Buffalo did not return phone calls Friday, but has long claimed she did nothing wrong and that the cigarettes were imported for sale on neighbouring reserves to boost the nation's economy.
She was temporarily removed from her post in late February because of the controversy, but has since been reinstated.
The four people facing charges will make their first court appearance at the end of June.
With Files from Scott Roberts