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National Grid backs homeowners against 'Gang of Four'

By Mike Hudson and Frank Parlato Jr.

The madness continues on the Tuscarora Reservation, with the power-mad ruling clique called by many the Gang of Four continuing to strip individual members of the most basic of civil and human rights based on petty pique and personal vendettas.

Just last week, a National Grid worker showed up at the reservation home of Brandon Rickard with the intention of turning off the electricity. The Upper Mountain Road home has been in the Rickard family for three generations, and he currently lives there with his children, ages 6, 4, 2 and 1.

Rickard confronted the worker, who told him the Tribal Council -- a dubious organization made up of tribal Clerk Leo Henry, Neil Patterson Sr., Neil Patterson Jr. and Grand Island attorney Kendra Winkelstein -- had ordered the shutoff and added that it had nothing to do with the bill.

"A friend of mine called me and I came flying down there," Rickard told the Niagara Falls Reporter. "The National Grid grid guy said, 'OK, I'm not going to shut you off, we'll maintain it until Monday.' He said he was just trying to do his job."

How an authority as dubious as the Tuscarora Tribal Council can order National Grid to disconnect anyone's service is a question National Grid wants an answer to themselves, said company spokesman Steve Brady.

"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. I don't believe this gentlemen is [in] any imminent risk."

Rickard's troubles started last winter when tribal clerk Leo Henry sent Rickard a letter from Bradenton, Fla., where Henry enjoys clement winters far from the Tuscarora Nation. The letter, full of misspellings and typographical errors, told Rickard he had to leave his ancestral home.

From Bradenton, Fla., Henry wrote to Rickard about Tuscarora custom and tradition. In the same letter he spoke of how if Rickard did not comply voluntarily, Henry would use the New York law and the state police to throw a fellow Tuscarora out of his home.

"My dad lived here all his life. He died in May 2010. I lived with him in this home nearly all my life," Rickard told the Niagara Falls Reporter. "I raised my children here. My grandfather and grandmother lived here in this home before my dad. He grew up here. I grew up here."

He believes the Tribal Council's efforts amount to nothing more than a simple land grab.

"It's a nice, beautiful house and the chiefs want it," Rickard said. "There's something horrible going on here on this reservation and it's the chiefs and I want the story to be told."

The denial of electrical service to Tuscarora families by the Tribal Council is common, despite the fact that the tribe receives 1 megawatt of power annually under the terms of the 2007 relicensing agreement with the state Power Authority. That would be enough to power every single home on the reservation for free, but the Tribal Council has decided instead to sell off the electricity on the open market, netting nearly $700,000 so far.

What is being done with that money is unknown to the Tuscarora people, who are also unaware of what has happened to the more than $12.5 million already paid out under the agreement. Furthermore, the Patterson family has been able to milk the federal Environmental Protection Agency for a total of $535,280 despite the fact that the Tribal Council waived a required environmental impact statement connected to the settlement.

It seems bad enough for Henry and the Pattersons to have become wealthy at their own people's expense. But the denial of basic human services like electric, telephone, plumbing and health care is beyond the pale.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 1, 2011