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RCMP makes record smokes bust

Staff with the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission unload some of the 75

No arrests have been made a week after RCMP seized 75,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes from a Quonset on the Montana reserve north of Ponoka.

The largest seizure of illegal tobacco in Alberta’s history has also resulted in demands for the resignation of the band chief and a councillor who say they brought the cigarettes onto the reserve.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) is leading the investigation into the origin of the illegal cigarettes, believed to be worth $3 million in lost tax revenue to the province.

The cigarettes were from another province and not properly marked for sale in Alberta, a violation of the provincial Tobacco Tax Act.

The Montana First Nation had no financial interest or investment into the contraband tobacco, said Hobbema RCMP Staff Sgt. Robin Alexander, adding the band council has been fully co-operative throughout the investigation.

AGLC investigators will determine whether there have been provincial tax violations.

RCMP customs and excise will continue their investigation from the perspective of the Excise Act, as well as the original break and enter offense.

The RCMP will also examine possible connections to organized crime.

At a meeting with band members Jan. 6, Chief Carolyn Buffalo said she and Coun. Len Standing on the Road brought the cigarettes in around Christmastime as part of a deal with partners in Edmonton and Quebec.

They thought the deal was legitimate and would benefit the band.

“We’re saying we’re sorry,” she told the meeting.

But some band members say they don’t buy the explanation and want both Standing on the Road and Buffalo to step down.

“I’m really disappointed with my chief and council,” says Lorinda Strongman, a band member.

The RCMP says the contraband tobacco was found after a break-in was reported by Buffalo on Jan. 3 and a search warrant executed two days later.

Police found the cigarettes packed 50 cartons to each cardboard box and stacked on pallets. Thieves had stolen a small amount of the cigarettes.

Prior to this bust, the largest number of illegal cigarettes seized in Alberta was in Red Deer, when 5,300 cartons were seized in November.

-- with files from the Red Deer Advocate