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Smoking Out the State Budget Crisis

Grocery man sues tribes over tax-free cigs.

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Gristede’s mogul and potential Republican mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis knows how to solve the state’s financial crisis: Tax cigarettes sold on Native American reservations. So Gristede’s is suing two eastern Long Island tribes, again. A 2006 suit against the Unkechaug and Shinnecock contended that they violated civil racketeering statutes by selling untaxed cigarettes (Marlboros cost about $4.20 from the tribes versus twice that at New York City retailers, after the latest tax hike); that suit was dismissed late last year. Now he has refiled in federal court, claiming false advertising. “The Indians have to pay taxes like anyone else,” Catsimatidis says. “I spoke to the Senate Majority Leader, Dean Skelos, and he agrees that collection of taxes from Indians would help the shortfall in the budget.” Unkechaug chief Harry Wallace calls the lawsuit a gimmick. “He’s using this as a publicity stunt in his campaign for mayor,” Wallace says. “It’s a mayoral campaign for a billionaire, and I have to tell New York: Beware of billionaires bearing gifts.”

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