Attorney General Letitia James Recovers $50 Million From Cigarette Companies

September 12, 2022

New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced a $50 million agreement with two companies that allegedly sold cigarettes without paying the required state excise taxes.

Today’s agreement resolves allegations that Grand River Enterprises Six Nations, Ltd. (Grand River) based in Canada, and its wholesaler, Native Wholesale Supply Company, Inc. (Native Wholesale), located in Western New York, violated state and federal laws by shipping, selling, and distributing cigarettes in New York without paying state taxes. The two companies brought millions of cartons of unstamped cigarettes into New York from Canada. In addition to paying $50 million, the agreement also permanently prevents the companies from selling unstamped cigarettes in New York.

“Hardworking New Yorkers pay taxes and so should multi-million-dollar companies,” said Attorney General James. “Regulating and taxing cigarettes is a critical tool to protect public health from the deadly dangers of tobacco. Today’s agreement enforces New York’s laws and will stop the overflow of unstamped cigarettes into New York. I will continue to enforce the law against companies and individuals who flout New York state laws and put our residents in jeopardy.”

New York imposes state taxes on cigarettes to curtail the usage of tobacco products that are known to have serious and sometimes deadly health effects and significant related economic costs. State excise taxes on tobacco products have been proven to prevent smoking imitation among adolescents and young adults, reduce cigarette consumption, and increase the number of smokers who quit. When state excise taxes are evaded, cigarette prices become artificially low, making them more attractive and accessible to young people. Moreover, the sale of contraband cigarettes also reduces valuable tax revenue used to pay for essential state services and public infrastructure. 

Grand River manufactures the cigarette brands Seneca, Couture, and Opal. Grand River’s primary distributor and wholesaler of cigarettes in New York is Native Wholesale. The two companies are alleged to have operated as a joint venture to manufacture, transport, and sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in New York.

As alleged in the complaint, Native Wholesale purchased cigarettes and tobacco products from Grand River, imported them into New York, and distributed the cigarettes to retailers in the state. Native Wholesale was not licensed by New York to distribute or sell cigarettes. Grand River knew that the cigarettes it sold to Native Wholesale would be sold into New York without going through a New York state licensed stamping agent for pre-payment of state taxes and would be neither stamped nor taxed as required by New York law.

These unstamped cigarettes then ended up on shelves in New York retailers throughout the state. On multiple occasions, investigators from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) were able to purchase these unstamped cigarettes from retailers in the state.

As a result of today’s agreement, New York will be paid $50 million. In addition, the companies must:

  • Create and maintain records of all of the Grand River cigarettes that enter New York and make those records available to OAG upon request;
  • Obtain statements from out-of-state customers indicating that they do not intend to reimport any unstamped cigarettes back into New York;
  • Cooperate with OAG when OAG is conducting an investigation into sales of unstamped Grand River cigarettes, or the sale of any unstamped cigarettes made by defendants;
  • Utilize authorized common carriers to transport unstamped cigarettes while they are transiting through New York; and,
  • Restrict sales of unstamped cigarettes to licensed cigarette stamping agents, federally bonded facilities, and other specified entities.

Attorney General James would like to thank the New York state Department of Taxation and Finance and the Ontario Ministry of Finance for their assistance and cooperation with this matter.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Brant Campbell, Carol Hunt, and Deputy Bureau Chief Leslieann Cachola under the supervision of Health Care Bureau Chief Sudarsana Srinivasan along with Deputy Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge Christopher Boyd under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge of the Buffalo Regional Office Michael Russo. The Health Care Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux, and the Buffalo Regional Office is a part of the Division of Regional Affairs which is led by Deputy Attorney General Jill Faber, all under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.

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