Liquor Control Board seizes untaxed cigarettes from Indian Country Store in Puyallup

OLYMPIA -The Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB), supported by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the City of Puyallup Police Department, seized over $250,000 in cash, over 3,610 cartons of contraband cigarettes and business sales records during a raid of the Indian Country Store, located at 908 River Rd. in Puyallup. In addition a second, simultaneous raid was executed on a trailer utilized as a drive-up tobacco stand operated by different parties but located on the same parcel of land. The raid comes after a joint investigation determined the Indian Country Store and the drive- up trailer had been selling untaxed cigarettes and selling cigarettes without a license.

Enforcement officers from the WSLCB and agents from the ATF served the search warrants on both premises at 1:00 p.m., closing the establishments and confiscating all contraband goods and proceeds. The raid is part of an ongoing criminal investigation by both state and federal authorities. Four individuals were booked in to the Pierce County Jail for possession of over 10,000 contraband cigarettes as well as the sale of untaxed cigarettes, both Class C felonies. Other criminal charges are pending.

“The Board greatly appreciates the outstanding collaboration between our Enforcement officers and the agents of the ATF” said WSLCB Board Chair Jane Rushford. “Interagency operations like these are integral to combating the illegal sale of tobacco.”  

Tobacco tax laws
Cigarettes must have a tax stamp on each pack to show that a retailer has paid the required taxes. Tax stamps are purchased from the Washington State Department of Revenue by Washington licensed distributors and wholesalers and then affixed to product when it is ordered by the retailer. It is illegal to sell cigarettes without a tax stamp or to have unstamped cigarettes on the premises. Also, all retailers are required to have a license to sell cigarettes in Washington. Selling cigarettes without a license is a felony.

The Colville Decision of 1980 determined that tribal smoke shops must collect cigarette taxes from nontribal members. Tribal members are exempt from cigarette taxes. Cigarette compacts with tribal governments have been very successful in resolving conflict in this area and purchases of compact cigarettes is lawful.

Sales of cigarettes at the Indian Country Store were not in compliance with state or tribal law. While the Quinault Indian Nation does have a compact with the state, the Indian Country Store has not been following the terms. The compact allows for 100 percent return of cigarette tax revenue to the tribe for essential government services, such as libraries, schools or health care.
The Indian Country Store is located on trust land. However, previous court decisions have established that the state cigarette tax applies to the purchases made on the parcel of land.


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