Cigarettes manufactured inside Rock River Manufacturing, a tobacco manufacturing company owned by the Winnebago Tribe. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Federal authorities seized more than $1 million in property in Winnebago raid

The economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe stands to lose more than $1 million in property after a raid on the reservation earlier this year.

Federal authorities seized nearly 100,000 cartons of cigarettes, a Dodge Ram truck and even a forklift during the two-day affair in Nebraska in January. Lance Morgan, a tribal citizen who serves as chief executive officer for Ho-Chunk Inc., estimated that the value of the tobacco products alone is $1.4 million.

"We are trying to get them back," Morgan said on Thursday, a day after a complaint was filed in federal court seeking the forfeiture of the tribal property.

Federal agents in unmarked black sports utility vehicles can be seen parked at the headquarters of Ho-Chunk Inc. on the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska on January 30, 2018. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

According to the complaint, the property was seized in connection with unlawful activity on the reservation. Ho-Chunk Inc. and its subsidiaries have violated federal tobacco laws by shipping and selling "untaxed, unstamped cigarettes to businesses in Nebraska other states," U.S. Attorney Joseph P. Kelly wrote in the filing.

Additionally, Kelly pointed out that Ho-Chunk Inc. just lost a lawsuit that became connected to the raid. On July 3, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that tribal businesses must turn over tobacco records to federal authorities.

Despite the actions, federal authorities have not charged anyone at Winnebago with actual crimes. And they also seeking to stop Ho-Chunk Inc. from moving forward with an entirely different lawsuit, this one against the state of Nebraska.

"Bullying," Morgan said of the efforts.

According to the forfeiture complaint, the U.S. Marshals Service in Omaha has retained custody of the truck and the fork-lift. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, also in Omaha, is holding on to the tobacco products.

Ho-Chunk Inc. owns Indianz.Com. The website is operated by a different subsidiary of the corporation and is not involved with the tobacco operations.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Ho-Chunk Inc. v. Sessions (July 3, 2018)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Appeals court rules against Winnebago tribal corporation in tobacco case (July 5, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe takes advantage of new 'Opportunity Zone' designation (April 27, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe fights back in court after 'attack on sovereignty' (April 24, 2018)
Frank LaMere: Native people are still fighting for our own rights (February 12, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe slams raid on businesses as attack on sovereignty (January 31, 2018)
Winnebago Tribe corporation cooperates with federal tobacco investigation (January 30, 2018)