A barrage of Freedom of Information requests directed toward the state Power Authority and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are starting to yield some answers concerning what many on the Tuscarora Nation of Indians say is the fraudulent leadership of the tribe.
At the same time, the so-called "Gang of Four" -- Leo Henry, Neil Patterson Sr., Neil Patterson Jr. and Grand Island attorney Kendra Winkelstein -- currently in control of millions of dollars in payments the nation is receiving from the state and federal governments, say they are confident that their backing by the Bureau of Indian Affairs will keep them in power despite their eroding support among the Tuscaroras themselves.
What began as a debate over $100 million in Power Authority settlement money the tribe will receive over a 50-year period that began in 2007 has now turned into a wide-ranging inquiry into the numerous money-making enterprises the leadership has become involved in. About $12.5 million has been received from the Power Authority, while a contract with the EPA nets the Tuscarora Energy Program -- a company controlled by the Pattersons -- another $431,280.
And while it is known that Neil Patterson Sr. received $87,000 for less than a year of part-time work as a "consultant" during the building of the Tuscarora Nation House earlier this year, and the land on which the community building was built was obtained from Leo Henry for an unspecified amount, exactly how much of the $7 million spent on the project went directly into the pockets of Gang of Four members is uncertain.
The situation has drawn the attention of the U.S. Justice Department and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is expected to launch a formal investigation in the coming weeks.
Prominent Niagara Falls attorney John Bartolomei is preparing a class-action lawsuit based on the federal civil RICO statute on behalf of a Tuscarora citizens group.
RICO -- the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act -- has been used in the past to prosecute Wall Street tycoons accused of insider trading and Catholic priests alleged to have molested young boys, as well as motorcycle clubs like the Hell's Angels, and the Mafia.
Under its harsh provisions, groups found to have committed as few as two specified criminal acts over a 10-year period may be liable for treble damages in a civil suit, and fines and prison in a criminal case.
Numerous sources on the Tuscarora Reservation told the Niagara Falls Reporter that Leo Henry -- who has not returned to his Florida home despite the onset of cold weather -- is assuring members of the tribe that his longstanding ties to officials at the Bureau of Indian Affairs will trump any investigation or lawsuit.
"We're going to find out if it's actually the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Leo Henry's affairs," one disgruntled Tuscarora said. "The only standing any of these people have in the nation is that given to them by Washington and Albany."
While Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein are expected to use a defense of sovereign immunity to shield themselves from any possible charges, the fact that the money in question is being doled out by agencies like the Power Authority, the EPA and the federal Department of Health and Human Services makes such a defense problematic at best.
Repeated attempts by the Reporter to get Henry, the Pattersons or Winkelstein to comment on the record concerning the serious allegations have been unsuccessful, and it appears extremely unlikely that any accounting will be forthcoming prior to the issuance of subpoenas.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Oct. 25, 2011|