Unkechaug Chief: Mayor’s Figures on Untaxed Cigarettes are ‘Made Up’

By
Harry Wallace.
Harry Wallace. Photo: Poospatuck Smoke Shop

Harry Wallace, beleaguered chief of the tiny Unkechaug Indian nation in Eastern Long Island, claims that the city's lawsuit this week slapping eight tribal tobacco vendors with charges of illegally selling tax-free cigarettes and contributing to black-market peddlers is just another power play by an anti-smoking white guy. "Bloomberg is not just fanatical about smoking; he's fanatical about being God — mayor slash governor slash president slash whatever, and I don't believe he believes the laws apply to him," charges Wallace, a lawyer whose state-sanctioned Indian nation has been hit twice by similar lawsuits from Gristedes mogul John Catsimatidis, a potential Republican candidate for mayor. Wallace claims that figures cited by varied officials that at least $525 million are lost in state tax revenue each year from cigarette sales to non-Indians looking for bargains are "made up."

Meanwhile, Governor Paterson, like his predecessor Eliot Spitzer, is said to be weighing the tax bill carefully, especially given the violent protests greeting efforts to collect taxes from Indians in the past. "I have no idea what Governor Paterson will do, but no governor — Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal — wants to engage in an action without looking back at history," said Albany lawyer Richard Rifkin, a former attorney for New York State who worked on Indian affairs. "Two governors [Cuomo and Pataki] made announcements that they would collect taxes from the Indians and in both cases they were forced to back off." As for Indian sales to non-Indians being illegal, Rifkin said: "That all depends on who you talk to."