State freezes Seneca cash

·4 min read

Mar. 29—The Seneca Nation of Indians Council was meeting in an emergency session late afternoon and into evening Monday in the wake of an apparent action by New York State to freeze and restrict access to the bank accounts of the nation and its gaming corporation.

The state action was described in an "update" from President Matthew Pagels to members of the nation and others on Saturday.

"Today, we learned that, as a result of New York State's recent overreaching court filing and a subpoena served to KeyBank late (Friday) the nation's and Seneca Gaming Corporation's ability to conduct banking transactions is currently restricted," Pagels wrote. "The nation and KeyBank are actively working to resolve this situation."

However, Pagels made clear that the state's action has crippled the nation's ability to conduct business.

"Any individuals or organizations with nation-issued checks in their possession should not to attempt to cash or deposit the checks until we have rectified the situation," Pagels wrote.

The state and the Seneca's are locked in yet another dispute over the payment of shared slot revenues outlined in the current gaming compact between them. On March 11, the state demanded two casino cash payments, totaling $540 million, be made by March 16.

The Senecas responded that the nation needed more time to allow the National Indian Gaming Commission to review the the current gaming compact.

On Jan. 12, the Seneca Nation announced that it was dropping a lawsuit against the state, over the compact's terms. and would began making casino cash payments again after suspending them in 2017.

The Senecas and the state also announced that they had entered into an agreement to begin discussions on a new gaming compact.

To date, the nation has not paid the state any of its claimed outstanding shared slot revenues. Attorneys for the state have claimed that the nation owes payments of $255,877,747.44 and $283,792,850.84 that were due on Jan. 22.

The two payments — totaling $539,670,598.28 — represent shared slot revenue from Jan. 1, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2018 and from Jan. 1, 2019 through Sept. 3, 2021.

Neither Governor Kathy Hochul's office nor the state's outside counsel have commented on the action to restrict the Seneca's finances.

The delay in making the previously announced payments reportedly stems from internal divisions in the Seneca Nation over the resolution of the dispute involving the shared slot revenues. A group known as the Mothers of the Seneca Nation has reportedly demanded that the nation seek other remedies, including firing its lawyers or seeking an intervention from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Pagels called the state's action "unjust." The Seneca president also said the nation has the funds to pay its obligations.

"The (restricted account in which compact-related funds have been kept) has more than adequate funds to satisfy any Compact-related court rulings and judgements," Pagels wrote. "The State knows this."

Pagels attacked the state for "victimizing" Seneca and non-Seneca people alike.

"In the short term, this clear act of aggression on the part of the state can impact our ability to provide basic services to our people, including healthcare and pharmaceuticals, education, Elders services, meal services, payroll for our employees, and so much more," Pagels wrote.

Falls Mayor Robert Restaino indicated he was monitoring the situation.

"I hope we can find a pathway and find a way to talk again," the mayor said. "It would be beneficial to the host communities.

Prior to the Nation Council's emergency meeting, Pagels said, ""New York State's actions over the past few days were purposeful, malicious and politically-motivated. New York State explicitly chose to put thousands of Seneca people, including our Elders needing medications and healthcare services, our children who receive education services, and Nation departments who support the daily lives, safety, health and wellbeing of our people, at risk. New York State decided to jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of thousands of non-Seneca families who work at our businesses and live in Western New York."

Editor's note: This is a developing story Which will be update online and in print as events warrant.