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By Mike Hudson

In the face of a U.S. Justice Department investigation into the fate of the $100 million settlement received by the Tuscarora Nation of Indians from the New York Power Authority, some are asking questions about money received by Neil Patterson Sr. for acting as a "consultant" on the construction of the new tribal community building.

While most on the reservation believed he was getting $35 an hour in the position, sources on the reservation told the Niagara Falls Reporter this week that Patterson made $87,000 in less than a year for the work. It is unknown what, if any, qualifications Patterson has, or what exactly his "consulting" consisted of.

The 33,000-square-foot building is nearly complete. It was built at a reported cost of $7 million, or $212 per square foot, though an independent appraiser who toured the facility on behalf of the Reporter said its true value was more like $2 million.

Patterson and his son, Neil Patterson Jr., also head up something called the Tuscarora Environment Program (TEP), which solicits grant monies from the state and federal governments. As with the $100 million Power Authority settlement, only the Pattersons and Tribal Clerk Leo Henry have any idea about how much the program receives every year, how the money is used, or how much the Pattersons are paying themselves out of the grant money.

Grand Island attorney Kendra Winkelstein, who's not a Native American, is also being paid with funding dedicated for the Tuscarora, though the amount she receives is not public.

TEP publishes a magazine, maintains a website, doles out scholarships, grants or denies applications for phone and electric service, has a paper-recycling program, is involved in the lucrative Greenway project, operates a library, and runs a myriad of other programs, all subsidized by state or federal grants.

Comically, the Pattersons, Henry and Winkelstein refer to themselves collectively as "the Nation" in literature distributed by the Tuscarora Environmental program, and have routinely denied tribal members access to electric and phone service under agreements made with National Grid and Verizon that forbid individual members of the tribe from applying for these services on their own.

Numerous sources on the reservation have told the Reporter that electric and phone service -- along with permission to dig a new well or install a septic system -- are routinely denied to those who have fallen out of favor. This despite the fact that one megawatt of electricity, enough to power every single building on the reservation, is received by "the Nation" each year under the terms of the Power Authority settlement.

Given their interest in the environment, many on the reservation find it odd that the leadership waived an environmental impact statement, given the number of Niagara Mohawk transmission lines that crisscross the reservation. "The Nation" receives rent from the Power Authority for each and every pole and wire on the reservation but -- again -- withholds the dollar value of the rental agreements and doesn't explain what the money is being used for.

Since the Reporter began its own investigation into the Tuscarora leadership back in May, the U.S. Justice Department has been eyeing the situation with increasing interest. Two weeks ago, the agency formally assigned a case number to its own investigation and is expected to start interviewing those involved in the Power Authority settlement as early as this week.

Obviously, handing $100 million over to a few people who aren't obligated to tell anyone what they're doing with the money can lead to the sort of abuses familiar to many in Niagara County, regardless of ancestry.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 2, 2011