Seneca elections roiled by suspicions of corruption at gaming corporation

Barely a month after six-term former President Barry E. Snyder, Sr. was snubbed by the Seneca Party, a dominant force in Seneca politics that he once controlled, rumors are swirling that the Buffalo field office of the FBI has been looking into Snyder’s work as Chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corporation.

The FBI has declined to confirm a current investigation, but Seneca voters are reminded of the charges against former Councillor Bergal Mitchell III, who with Tim Toohey, was convicted of defrauding the Nation of several hundred thousand dollars in a land deal during the development of the corporation’s Hickory Stick Golf Course.

Snyder denied involvement in that scheme, but few Senecas believe that the well-known micro-manager would allow such a large transaction to take place under his watch without knowing full well where the money was going.  Snyder and Mitchell are longtime confidantes.

In Seneca circles, it was widely thought that the $22 million cost of constructing that golf course included vastly more graft that was never prosecuted.

Snyder and his dealings with former Councillor Bergal Mitchell III and the Hickory Stick Golf Course is the reason why the Council passed a law in 2010 to prevent the President from simultaneously serving as Seneca Gaming Chairman.

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Todd Gates.
Last month, the Seneca Party overlooked Snyder and nominated Treasurer Todd Gates for the Presidency. Gates is a longtime member of the Tribal Council and generally thought to be an honest, trustworthy, and good natured individual.

Since January 2015 the position of Chief Executive Officer at Seneca Gaming has been vacant, during which time Snyder has been playing an active management role. Cathy Walker vacated the position abruptly after Snyder architected a deal with the Tribal Council to appoint him Chairman and anointed longtime ally Moe John as President.

Since then the Chief Operations Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and General Counsel have all reported directly to the Board. Many who are familiar with the arrangement say that Snyder is acting in the role of Chairman and CEO — a position of unprecedented control over a multi-billion dollar asset and banned by Seneca law.

The vacant position comes with an $800,000 salary.

Snyder has been widely criticized for failing to recruit a dynamic CEO at the corporation, which has suffered a succession of lackluster executives. While many Senecas yearn for a brilliant and visionary business person to take the helm, Snyder has intentionally left the post vacant.

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Walker was a former regulator from the New Jersey Gaming Regulatory Commission. She is an attorney who lacked entrepreneurial instincts that would have made for more successful venues. Critics point to the entrance of the Niagara Falls casino — a submerged parking lot in front of Falls Street that has remained vacant and unattractive for years — as evidence of Walker’s leadership shortcomings.

Walker was also criticized for “standing down on the Seneca Nation’s rights” while the corporation had been defrauded by Delaware North Companies for several years. A CEO who understood federal Indian law would have mobilized a team of lawyers and public relations experts. A CEO who understood the political landscape in Albany and DC and would have called for an investigation by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

With that kind of strategic positioning, the gaming corporation could have had Delaware North’s illegal casinos shut down, secured a far more lucrative extension of the gaming compact, and retained the $600 million in accumulated revenue sharing payments that were withheld during the dispute.

The socio-political predicament requires that the corporation’s next CEO understands the evolution of federal Indian law and is a student of indigenous political theory who thinks with these colonial constructs as much he thinks against them.

safe_image.jpgInstead, the Nation didn’t effectively articulate the nature of it’s grievance in the public discourse.  United States Attorney William C. Hochul, the husband of Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, declined to to prosecute Delaware North or its executives. Hochul has since been hired as Delaware North’s General Counsel

A new political party is founded to upend Seneca Party grip

Promising transparency and a new path that provides hope, faith and trust in government, businessman JC Seneca of the Cattaraugus Territory is running for president in the election scheduled for Nov. 1.

farina-2“Under the past two administrations, our people have  been kept in the dark,” Seneca said in a telephone interview this week.  “People know that I am a straight shooter, they have approached me about their concerns, and they are tired of being suppressed like they have been for the last four years.”

Seneca said he is ready to “give the people a voice in government,” and promises transparency “in how our government operates,” saying “whether it is good or bad, the people deserve the truth.”

Seneca, a businessman for 29 years, will be making his third bid to lead the Seneca Nation, having run previously in 1992 and 2000.  In addition to gas and cigarette sales, Seneca operates a trucking company that hauls motor fuel and is a wholesale operator providing products to the Cattaraugus and Allegany Territories that make up the Seneca Nation.

He lists among his top priorities taking on the alcohol and drug problems in both territories and the surrounding communities that are breeding addicts with little help of recovery and causing many deaths.

Seneca says the support mechanisms currently in place are just not up to the task, and he said he would work with surrounding communities and within the Seneca Nation to stop the dealers bringing in the drugs and establish what he calls a “recovery alumni group” to help people returning from treatment develop a bond with their peers who have been fighting the battle.

Seneca says a unified law enforcement effort is needed from the territories and surrounding communities, and he says he discussed the problem with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul during a recent meeting and she was very receptive.

As for the gaming compact with the state, Seneca thinks the Seneca Nation and other tribes came out the losers in the settlement negotiated three years ago with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and that competition with state-run gaming operations continues to hurt Indian-run casinos in Niagara Falls and elsewhere, although people he talks to in the territories don’t necessarily  think it is time to renegotiate the compact as some lawmakers in Niagara Falls believe.

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