Editorial by Assemblywoman Tenney runs in NY Post about Oneida Nation deal
NEWSChannel 2 Staff
An editorial expressing Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney's disappointment with the deal struck between New York State, Madison County and Oneida County with the Oneida Indian Nation appeared in Wednesday's edition of the New York Post.
The Oneida County Legislature passed a vote on 16 to 13 on the agreement with the Oneida Indian Nation and the Madison County Board of Supervisors is set to vote on their agreement with the Oneida Nation on Thursday morning.
Officials say the agreement would bring Oneida County $12.5 million annually from gaming machine revenue and another $48 million in back taxes, to be disbursed at a rate of around $2 million a year until that amount is paid. Also, the nation would not put any more land into trust.
The agreement came with the Cuomo administration guarantees exclusive territory for the Oneidas casino in Verona.
The Wednesday morning edition of the New York Post carried the following editorial by Assembleywoman Tenney, titled "A rotten deal with 'casino Oneidas'"
"Gov. Cuomo is apparently determined to ram through his deal with the Oneida Indian Nation, announced two weeks ago. He's using threats to push county legislatures to OK it, and will doubtless try to ramrod the state Legislature, too. But it's a rotten bargain - robbing taxpayers of nearly a billion in back taxes and effectively evicting from its land the one Oneida band that's held out against the gambling interests that claim to represent the Oneidas.
Local and state taxpayers are owed an estimated $800 million in back taxes from the "Casino Oneidas" - a debt Cuomo's deal would erase. All they would pay is 25 percent of gambling profits from some of their machines.
It all goes back 20 years, when Gov. Mario Cuomo signed a compact with Ray Halbritter, a man backed by casino interests who claims to have some Oneida blood and to represent the Oneida Indians. (To be clear, many Oneidas do now support the casino and Halbritter's leadership.)
That compact was never ratified by the Legislature, but the Casino Oneidas went ahead and built Turning Stone casino in Oneida County anyway - and have refused to pay taxes on the land, the casino earnings or their other lucrative businesses, including a spa, golf courses and campgrounds as well as tobacco and gasoline sales.
Courts have repeatedly agreed that the compact never took effect, since it was never ratified. But Halbritter - backed by Washington-based lobbyist Niels Holch - refused to comply with the law; his outfit continues to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars. It collects an "Oneida Nation" tax on some operations, but hands over nothing to the state or local governments.
The cash gusher has allowed the Casino Oneidas to work the bureaucracies and buy popularity among other Oneidas (who are mostly dirt-poor), retroactively giving a veneer of legitimacy to Halbritter's claims to represent the tribe. The money has also gone to enrich various politicians, through campaign contributions and other means.
The best example of those "other means" involves the Destito family. RoAnn Destito is now Gov. Cuomo's commissioner for General Services, and assisted in cutting his deal with the Casino Oneidas. Before that, she served for 18 years in the state Assembly, long chairing the Government Operations Committee which oversees the Alcohol and Beverage Control Board - which ought to be regulating the (illegal) casino. Meanwhile, her late husband happened to win near-exclusive rights to sell liquor to Turning Stone.
Along with the taxpayers, the other big losers are the rule of law and those it is meant to protect - especially traditional Oneida Indians and upstate landowners.
Melvin Phillips - my pro-bono client - is a full-blooded Oneida Indian, recognized by the Six-Nations Iroquois Confederacy as the representive of one Oneida tribe, the Orchard Hill Band of Oneidas. He opposes Halbritter and Holch's hijacking of traditional Indians.
He also controls a key piece of property - the only local parcel to have remained in continuous Oneida control since 1788, when the Oneidas (including his ancestors) signed a treaty deeding all of their land to the state forever in exchange for hunting and fishing rights, so long as they stayed on the land.
Phillips' right to possession of his land is preserved pursuant to past treaties and ratified in state law. But Halbritter and Holch now seek to usurp it in a push to set up a federal trust that would hold up to 25,000 acres for the Casino Oneidas - and they need his land, the only continuously held tract, to make the trust legal.
This land grab is being challenged in the courts by the state, several counties, Phillips and other citizens. Indeed, Gov. Cuomo is obliged by state law to pursue the case - he swore an oath to defend New York's sovereignty and its borders, which has always been understood to entail having the state pay for such litigation.
But Cuomo's deal would end the litigation, OK the trust and evict Phillips, as well as forgoing all those back taxes. And to get counties to ratify it, he's threatening to not pay for the litigation - again, despite his legal obligation to do so.
The deal even deputizes the Casino Oneida's security force, giving them police powers over all citizens of the county. Imagine how safe those who've fought them will feel then.
In exchange for a token payment, Halbritter, Holch and the Casino Oneidas are on the verge of getting everything they've ever dreamed of - free land, de facto sovereignty and ill-gotten standing over legitimate Oneidas.
Cuomo calls it time to clean up Albany. Why, then, is he cooperating in this rotten deal? New York's leaders owe our citizens a fair deal - one that makes the Casino Oneidas pay their back taxes and comply with state law. Taxpayers, the traditional Oneida culture and the rule of law would be better off.
Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney (R) represents parts of Oswego and Oneida counties."