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Four arrested for illegal tobacco at Dakota Plains

By Svjetlana Mlinarevic, The Graphic

Portage LaPraire -RCMP has seized a large quantity of illegal tobacco and firearms at Dakota Plains First Nation last week.

Known as Project Debit, the RCMP serious and organized crime unit, Portage la Prairie RCMP, Dakota Ojibway Police Service, and Manitoba Finance executed a search warrant on Jan. 22 at the smoke shop on the reserve.

Police found 4,800 cartons of contraband cigarettes and three firearms. During the search, police became aware of a rental locker paid for by the shop owner Craig Blacksmith, 51. When that was searched, police found two cases of tobacco and three more firearms.

In total, 951,225 cigarettes were seized, 1,845 tins of chewing tobacco, six firearms, cash and one vehicle.

Police made the seizure because the shop didn’t pay provincial tax on the products, which amounted to $292,572.

Police arrested Blacksmith, shop employee Tammy Walters, 42, Matthew Audi, 26, and Christopher Wilkins, 30, both of Quebec, as they had delivered the illegal tobacco to the smoke shop.

Blacksmith is charged with four counts of possessing or selling unstamped tobacco under the Excise Act 2001; two counts of possessing and selling non-Manitoba marked cigarettes under the Manitoba Tobacco Tax Act and the Tax Administration and Miscellaneous Taxes Act; two counts of possessing and selling other tobacco products (snuff) under the Manitoba Tobacco Tax Act and the Tax Administration and Miscellaneous Taxes Act; willfully evading payment of tax under the Manitoba Tobacco Tax Act and the Manitoba Tax Administration and Miscellaneous Taxes Act; possession of property obtained by crime under the Criminal Code; six counts of careless storage of a firearm; seven counts of unauthorized possession of a firearm.

Walters is charged with three counts of possessing or selling unstamped tobacco under the Excise Act 2001; two counts of possessing and selling non-Manitoba marked cigarettes under the Manitoba Tobacco Tax Act and the Tax Administration and Miscellaneous Taxes Act; and two counts of possessing and selling other tobacco products (snuff) under the Manitoba Tobacco Tax Act and the Tax Administration and Miscellaneous Taxes Act.

Audi and Wilkins are charged with possessing or selling unstamped tobacco under the Excise Act 2001; possession of property obtained by crime under the Criminal Code; selling non-Manitoba marked tobacco under the Manitoba Tobacco Tax Act and the Tax Administration and Miscellaneous Taxes Act.

All those charged will appear in a Winnipeg court on May 12. All those arrested have been released on a promise to appear. If convicted of the provincial offences, each accused can face a tax penalty of triple the amount avoided amounting to $877,718.

By law, all cigarettes and tobacco must have a Health Canada warning along with a stamp indicating that the required duties and taxes have been paid on them. Millions of dollars that could fund social programs, education, employment programs and health care is lost when tax revenue to federal and provincial governments is not paid.

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