By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO March 25, 2005 The Cayuga Nation of New York, which is hoping to build a casino at the Monticello Raceway with Empire Resorts, is currently in the midst of a tumultuous battle for control of its current and future affairs.
The events began in December, when Clint Halftown, who was recognized by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs as the tribes representative, withdrew his support for an agreement with Empire Resorts and the state on a land claim settlement, purportedly because out-of-state tribes such as the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma and the Oneidas of Wisconsin were involved (the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans is also based in Wisconsin).
The sides recently met in United States District Court in Syracuse at a federal hearing in which Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. of the Northern District of New York ruled that he has no jurisdiction over who represents the tribe or other affairs he considered to be internal issues.
Other tribal members, such as Timothy Twoguns and Gary Wheeler, who represent the Turtle Clan of the tribe, claim that Halftown was only given limited representation,and not complete control over the tribes dealings with Empire Resorts or the State of New York.
Wheeler and Twoguns were represented at the hearing by the New York City firm of Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, which was the longtime firm of the tribe but was reportedly fired by Halftown. Halftown was represented by Daniel French of the Syracuse law firm of Green & Seifter.
French did not return messages seeking comment. But Wheeler took direct aim at Halftown.
He said papers have been filed seeking a temporary restraining order against Halftown, in order for the tribes financial records and other documents to be made available as part of an audit.
According to Wheeler, Halftown was instrumental in reaching the settlement with the state, which would allow them to operate a casino in the Catskills, among other provisions. He said that Halftown knew that out-of state tribes had a right to land claims, since the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma was a part of the states previous compensation agreement with various tribes to settle land claims.
Wheeler said that Halftown also contended that Empire Resorts would not live up to its agreement to assist the tribe in purchasing land near its disputed land claim area in the Syracuse region, around Cayuga Lake. The tribe has laid claim to 64,000 acres of land there.
There are three fully functioning clans in the tribe, said Wheeler. Along with the Turtle Clan he represents, there is the Heron (bird) Clan, which Halftown was appointed to represent (although Wheeler maintains that it also a subject of argumentation), and the Bear Clan, which Wheeler said has not made a determination regarding the entire issue of the tribes affairs.
On the same day of the hearing in Syracuse, Franklin Keel, the Eastern Regional Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, issued a statement relating to the BIAs recognition of Halftown, in which he said, The Bureaus recognition of Mr. Halftown as the Cayuga Nations representative does not extend to the Cayuga Nations dealings with any state or local government, other sovereign entities, corporations and other entities, or individuals.
Empire Resorts Vice-President Charles Degliomini responded for the company by stating "This decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs clears up any remaining confusion caused by Halftown's self-serving and bizarre proclamations. It aligns the Bureau with the state and the Nation's position that the New York Cayuga land claim settlement is valid and will move forward to a successful and timely conclusion."
In another development, Empire Resorts announced on Monday that it hired former federal Bureau of Indian Affairs Deputy Commissioner Hilda A. Manuel. According to a statement by the company, she will serve as chief compliance officer [and] will evaluate, review and supervise the compliance of the company with legal and regulatory requirements in regard to the companys quest to build two casinos at Monticello Raceway and the former Concord Resort with the Cayuga Nation of New York and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.
The public release featured a comment by Empire Resorts CEO Robert Berman, who said, As a policymaker, regulator, tribal advocate and highly skilled Native American lawyer her experience, expertise and unparalleled reputation will be valuable resources for the company to draw upon as we continue to move forward towards our goal of developing two world-class resort-casinos just 90 miles from New York City."