Wolf's Run, a popular business in Irving run by two prominent members of the Seneca Nation, was raided by federal agents Wednesday in connection with a continuing investigation into alleged cigarette tax violations.
Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives searched the business on Route 438 in Irving for several hours Wednesday morning and afternoon. No arrests have been announced.
Wolf's Run, which sells cigarettes, gasoline and food items and also houses a popular restaurant, is owned by Willy Parry and his wife, Sally Snow, both of whom have been outspoken critics of government efforts to tax Native American cigarette sales.
In June, federal prosecutors in Missouri filed a noncriminal civil forfeiture complaint against Parry and more than 10 other people, calling for federal seizure of an airplane, some tractors, and nearly $1.4 million in cash. A copy of the complaint, which details a huge federal investigation into alleged contraband cigarette trafficking in several different states, was obtained by The Buffalo News late Wednesday.
In addition to Parry, the noncriminal complaint lists Aaron J. Pierce, one of the candidates in the upcoming election for Seneca Nation president, and several cigarette businesses in Western New York as "subjects of the investigation or persons of interest." One of the businesses listed in the complaint is AJ's Wholesale in Irving, which, according to court papers, is owned by Pierce.
The other local businesses named as subjects were Jacob Kern & Sons in Lockport, and two tobacco businesses on the Tonawanda Seneca reservation in Basom: Arrowhawk Smoke Shop and the Totem Pole. Other subjects of the investigation include businesses and individuals from Missouri, Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma, Virginia, Nebraska, Washington State and the Canadian province of Quebec, according to the court documents.
So far, no arrests have been made in a probe that began in the summer of 2010, authorities said. They would not say whether anything was seized at Wolf's Run. "All I can tell you is, no one has been arrested. There have been no criminal charges," said Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas City, Mo.
James Aboud, a Missouri businessman who died last October, was the "main target" of the investigation, an ATF agent said in court papers.
The 101-page court document says federal agents, some of them working undercover, investigated millions of dollars in cigarette sales to businesses in Western New York and other states.
Efforts to reach Parry, Snow and Pierce were unsuccessful Wednesday. All three have been involved in past legal efforts to prevent government taxation of Seneca cigarette sales.
Wolf's Run is one of the most popular businesses on the Senecas' Cattaraugus Reservation. Parry and Snow have been involved in numerous charitable events, many of them involving long-distance motorcycle runs to raise money for charities.
Pierce, according to the website touting his presidential run, also has been active in charitable events.
Michael "Spike" John, a member of the Seneca Tribal Council, said he noticed a "large caravan of state troopers and ATF agents" headed to Wolf's Run late Wednesday morning.
In recent months, a number of trucks carrying cigarettes made by Seneca businesses have been stopped and searched by police or federal agents, John said.
"It's frustrating. We've been fighting for our sovereignty a long time. They have been seizing truckloads of cigarettes made by our own people," John said. "I'd like to know what's going on, and who is inviting the feds onto our territory."
In recent years, Sally Snow has been active as a board member of the Seneca Fair Trade Association, a group of about 140 Senecas who fought unsuccessfully against a federal law that stopped the U.S. Postal Service from making commercial deliveries of cigarettes. In 2010, Snow was listed as a director of the association, which included many of the Seneca Nation's most successful and influential business owners.