$1M in illegal smokes seized in massive police raid
Man who has thumbed his nose at authorities over contraband tobacco charged
Nearly a million contraband cigarettes, 1,845 tins of chewing tobacco, six firearms, cash and a vehicle have been seized in a joint RCMP Manitoba Finance operation dubbed Project Debit.
Police raided a smoke shop on Dakota Plains First Nation last week on Jan. 22, just after a delivery of contraband tobacco had arrived.
Police, working with the Dakota Ojibway Police Service, said the two men from Quebec who made the delivery were arrested. The owner of the shop, Craig Blacksmith, who has defied the province in the past on the issue, as well as an employee, a 42-year-old woman, were also arrested.
It's not the first time Blacksmith has run afoul of authorities for selling illegal tobacco.
In 2012, Blacksmith was involved in the Chundee Smoke Shop case in Brandon when of a number of people were charged in connection to contraband cigarettes for sale.
It's unclear if Blacksmith was actually charged in that case, which is due back in court Feb. 12 in Brandon.
In this latest case, Blacksmith is facing both provincial charges under the Manitoba Tobacco Tax Act and federal charges under the Excise Act and the Criminal Code.
Seel said the investigation that culminated in the charges announced Thursday has been going on for two years.
"This wasn't a fly-by-night type of operation," she said. "There was a lot of intelligence work that went into it. It's been a couple years in the making. It is a significant project."
Seel said the Manitoba tax the suspects avoided paying was $292,572.68 and if convicted, the suspects could each face triple that amount in fines, or $877,718.04.
She said that unpaid tax comes out of the pockets of Manitobans in the end.
"These taxes are millions of dollars that could fund social programs, employment programs, education, health care, all those types of things," she said. "If you are buying a package of cigarettes, just look for that stamp indicating that the required duties and taxes have been paid on them."
CBC's calls to Craig Blacksmith for comment have not been returned.
He and the others accused in the case have been released and are to appear in Winnipeg court May 12.