Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tribal members plead not guilty to contraband cigarette charges

Four people who operated a smoke shop on the Swinomish Indian Reservation that was raided for untaxed cigarettes two years ago pleaded not guilty to federal charges Monday in Seattle.

Tribal members Marvin Wilbur, 71, and his wife Joan Wilbur, 72, along with their daughters-in-law April Wilbur, 44, and Brenda Wilbur, 49, were indicted by a grand jury in U.S. District Court last month on one count of conspiracy to traffic in contraband cigarettes and five counts of trafficking in contraband cigarettes.

The four remain free pending a trial set for September. The charges carry prison terms up to five years.

The Wilbur family ran the Trading Post at March Point, near Anacortes, which was raided in May 2007. Agents seized nearly four million unstamped cigarettes and about $120,000 in cash and bank accounts. It all has been forfeited to the government.

Prosecutors allege the Trading Post took in at least $13 million in revenue from contraband cigarettes and should have paid about $11 million in tobacco taxes.

In 2003, Marvin and Joan Wilbur unsuccessfully sued to try to stop a cigarette-tax compact between the state and the tribe that requires the tribe to collect the same tobacco taxes from on-reservation smoke shops that the state would collect.

Prosecutors say the Wilburs didn't get a tribal license to sell cigarettes and didn't pay tribal tax.