By Matt Youngfrau and Dan Hust
MONTICELLO March 14, 2003 Several Native American tribes have expressed interest in taking over parts of land in Sullivan County to run casinos, but now the county is facing a group that wants to own all 1,000 square miles.
County Attorney Ira Cohen announced at yesterdays Executive Committee meeting of the Sullivan County Legislature that the Western Mohegan group of Indians is suing the state, the governor and 10 counties, including Sullivan and Orange, for monetary damages regarding land claims, and theyre asking for title to and possession of all the land in every county.
The Western Mohegans are not a state or federally recognized tribe, nor do they have any association with the current tribes vying for a piece of the local casino pie including the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohegans.
Several years ago, they tried to become involved in the Concord bankruptcy, claiming they had land rights and wanted title to the property. The county refused.
They also made a deal with the Tamarack Hotel near Ellenville for a casino, but the deadline for action has passed on that. Ulster County, however, is not mentioned in the lawsuit.
Cohen said this group had once run an upstate illegal bingo operation that the state shut down (they planned a similar operation at the Concord), and he added that its chief, Ron Roberts, was indicted several years ago for providing false information to obtain a loan, along with making false statements during bankruptcy proceedings (the aforementioned Concord case).
Cohen, who learned about the suit during a meeting in Albany on Tuesday, has been in touch with the state Attorney Generals office and was asked to help coordinate legal counsel for the counties (Sullivan, Orange, Greene, Columbia, Albany, Renssaelear, Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland and Westchester).
He said the state will be invoking a little-used rule called state law, which says that, when a group contests property ownership with the state, the governor can appoint legal counsel for all affected municipalities and provide the funds for that counsel.
Cohen plans to return to Albany Wednesday to meet with representatives of the involved counties.
Were very concerned about this, said Cohen. We have to take this seriously, as they are trying to lay claim to all of the land in Sullivan County. We will not give up on participation in this suit.