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DEAD WOMAN BENEFITING FROM CHEAP POWER, TUSCARORA LEADERSHIP CLAIMS: Living, breathing people being denied as Henry, Patterson boast

By Mike Hudson

A closer look at the boast Neil Patterson Jr. made in his family newsletter -- that 130 Tuscarora households are receiving low-cost electricity from the one megawatt given the Tuscaroras under the terms of the 2007 state Power Authority relicensing agreement -- does not stand up under even the slightest scrutiny.

Take the case of the late Minerva Bissell, for example.

The Tuscarora "Gang of Four" -- Neil Patterson Sr., Neil Patterson Jr., tribal Clerk Leo Henry and Grand Island attorney Kendra Winkelstein -- say that Bissell, who lived at 2139 Upper Mountain Road prior to her unfortunate death nearly 15 years ago, is currently receiving cheap electricity through a generous program they administer.

The question must be asked: Since Bissell is obviously not using any electricity, is the wattage being assigned to her being used to give someone else the benefit, or is it being sold on the open market, like much of the rest of the power allotment?

And what happens to the $40,000 to $60,000 the Gang of Four collects annually through the sale of electrical power meant to benefit all Tuscaroras?

Neil Patterson Jr. wrote recently in a newsletter published by his family that 130 homes were currently benefiting from the low-cost electric program. But the one megawatt the tribe is given each year is enough to power 1,000 households, far more than the 376 on the Tuscarora reservation today.

Which brings us to the case of Ron Billings. After having been denied the right to hook his house up to existing power lines for years by the ruling clique, Billings was suddenly granted admission to the power program at the end of October.

But when he went to turn in the associated paperwork that would allow him to finally connect to the service, he was told that Henry would have to sign off on it. By then, Henry had already fled to a house he owns at 53 Avenue E in Bradenton, Fla., and the earliest Billings could get his signature would be at the next scheduled tribal council meeting in February.

The full-blooded Tuscarora now faces yet another winter of power supplied by an outdoor gasoline-driven generator.

The near-total control over individual tribal members' right to have full-cost electricity, discount electricity or any electricity at all suffered a blow last week when National Grid refused to disconnect a customer at the behest of Leo Henry.

When a National Grid employee showed up at the home of Brandon Rickard with an order to disconnect based on an order signed by Henry, the Niagara Falls Reporter called the company to see how Henry could cut off electricity to a customer whose bill was paid in full.

It turns out that he couldn't.

National Grid spokesman Steve Brady said that, while Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein have the power to keep people from getting hooked up to power lines in the first place, they have no power to order shutoffs.

"There is nothing in that agreement (between National Grid and the Tuscaroras) or our existing tariffs to disconnect the service," Brady said. "Our tariffs are fairly specific about when and how we can terminate anybody's service -- safety, non-payment and so on. Termination is a serious matter and a last resort."

Asked specifically about what happened in the Rickard case, Brady said an investigation is ongoing.

"It appears there has been some level of dispute between Mr. Rickard and another individual," Brady said. "The order to disconnect Mr. Rickard was canceled and we are going to look internally and see how the order was written in the first place. We are going to investigate this thoroughly."

Most recently, brothers Alex Anderson and Joseph Anderson Jr. had their requests for permission to hook their homes up to National Grid power lines rejected by the Pattersons, Henry and Winkelstein. Both men own their own businesses, and are the grown sons of longtime Niagara Falls Reporter advertiser "Smokin' Joe" Anderson.

Henry told the brothers that they needed to come up with information from their telephone accounts in order to be considered for electrical hookups, but the council's behavior in a large number of similar cases makes it far more likely they were rejected because of their father's longtime association with this newspaper.

With Henry down in Florida and no further tribal Council meetings planned before February, the Anderson brothers, like Billings, must rely on generators to get them through the harsh winter months.

"Leo ran out," one Tuscarora told the Reporter. "He's running from his problems."

The Pattersons and Henry are the recognized spokesmen for the Tuscarora by numerous state and federal agencies, including federal agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency, and state agencies like the Power Authority.

Native American radio host John Kane told the Reporter that the problems the Tuscaroras are experiencing are not unique.

"I'm not normally in favor of airing our dirty laundry in public, but these things aren't just our problems, but problems the way these outside agencies decide who the recognized (tribal) representatives are," he said. "The Tonawanda Seneca and Cayuga are having the same trouble as the Tuscarora, though maybe to a lesser degree."

While Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein are expected to use a defense of sovereign immunity to shield themselves from any possible charges, the fact that the money in question is being doled out by state and federal agencies makes such a defense problematic at best.

Numerous sources on the Tuscarora Reservation told the Niagara Falls Reporter that, prior to leaving for Florida, Henry assured members of the tribe that his longstanding ties to officials at the Bureau of Indian Affairs would trump any investigation or lawsuit.

He'd better hope that is correct. In addition to attention from the U.S. Justice Department and the New York State Attorney General's office, a class-action RICO lawsuit being prepared by prominent Niagara Falls attorney John Bartolomei.

"We're going to find out if it's actually the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Leo Henry's affairs," one disgruntled Tuscarora said. "The only standing any of these people have in the nation is that given to them by Washington and Albany." L

ike a gathering storm that will one day wash away the old and bring in the new, these various legal actions may wash away a class system set up more than 50 years ago in Washington and Albany, and ring in a new era for the Tuscarora, one in which each and every member of the nation shares in the tribe's prosperity and is afforded the sort of human and civil rights most Americans take for granted.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 15, 2011