After agreement this month

New York: Former Seneca leader seeks to reopen legal fight over compact payments with state

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A former Seneca Nation official is seeking to resume a legal fight over casino payments with New York State. Susan Abrams, a longtime Seneca activist and former member of the Tribal Council, filed a lawsuit on Friday in the tribe’s Peacemakers Court, according to Buffalo News.

According to the news source, Abrams asked the court, which is run by the tribe and has authority within Seneca territories, for a temporary restraining order stopping any payments under a 2002 compact that allowed the tribal nation to open casinos in Western New York.

Earlier this month, Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels announced the tribe had signed an agreement with New York to discontinue litigation over the tribe’s compact with the state. This would allow to begin discussions on a new compact and to settle “the longstanding dispute.”

Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels.

The Seneca Nation, which operates casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, first notified the state in March 2017 that it had made its final payment under the gaming compact the tribe negotiated with the state in 2002.

But an arbitration panel later sided with the state, mandating the Senecas to remit $225 million to New York, as part of an agreement to share a quarter of slot revenues from the three casinos. The tribe contended that this should have been overturned because the secretary of the Department of the Interior did not review revenue-sharing payments for the renewal period of the agreement with the state.

The Senecas challenged the decision in federal court, and asked for a review by the Department of the Interior. However, last February, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration claimed the Senecas’ obligation had grown to $435 million. A total of three rulings supported the state in the years-long conflict.

Following the announcement that the tribe would drop the legal dispute and remit the revenue-sharing payments to the state, Abrams called the agreement “an illegal action.” According to the former Seneca Nation Councilor, the settlement agreement was “not formally approved” by Council resolution in either a convened special or regular session of Council.

Abrams, who was joined by about 300 enrolled Seneca Nation Members in two community meetings this week voicing their opposition, said Pagels “acted unilaterally without the legal consent of a Council authorization,” reports Observer. Abrams said Pagels “violated the Seneca Nation Constitution, and acted in defiance of the people.”

“The president and the council are ill-advised by their attorneys. The Nation has not exhausted all possible federal remedies and must continue to fight for the Seneca people,” said Abrams. “This temporary restraining order is being filed to stop the payments to the state. I am fighting for the people of the Seneca Nation, since President Pagels has let the Seneca people down.”

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