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By Mike Hudson

Members of the Tuscarora Nation of Indians and Calamar Construction gathered on Friday to celebrate the opening of the Tuscarora Nation House, a 38,000-square-foot building opened at a cost of around $7 million, despite the fact that the federal government and an independent appraiser brought in by the Niagara Falls Reporter estimated the cost of construction at around $2 million.

"There's nothing like it in Western New York," said Tuscarora Nation building liaison Neil Patterson Sr., who received $87,000 for less than a year of work on the project, in addition to the various large sums he receives from the Nation's treasury for other "official" duties.

He may be right, though. Very few $2 million buildings in Western New York end up costing $7 million. And a number of Tuscarora contractors who bid in to participate in the construction were turned down in the secretive bidding process.

Construction of the project was overseen by the ruling clique of the Tuscarora, which consists of Patterson, his son Neil Patterson Jr., Tribal Clerk Leo Henry and attorney Kendra Winkelstein. Among many on the reservation, the clique is known as the "Gang of Four."

Henry's claim to fame is the amount of money he's persuaded the New York Power Authority to mail directly to his house, more than $12.5 million since 2005.

That money was part of a $100 million settlement tied to the Power Authority's relicensing agreement with the Tuscarora. The vast majority of the Tuscarora people have no idea whatsoever as to where the money has gone.

Among other things, the Nation House will be the new home of the Tuscarora's health and dentistry clinics. It is not expected that the policy of denying health care to enrolled Tuscarora members who have run afoul of the Pattersons or Henry will change anytime soon, however.

Dawn Phillips, a Tuscarora who works as a psychiatric social worker at Erie County Medical Center, expressed her frustration in a recent interview with the Niagara Falls Reporter.

"In my professional capacity as a prevention case manager, intensive family case manager, addiction counselor, and medical social work manager, I have worked with over 100 people who were denied healthcare services," she said. "There isn't any rhyme or reason to how Leo (Henry) makes his decision to deny services. In one family, he allowed a son to go to the clinic, but not the daughter, even though both share the same parentage."

Under an application made to the federal Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Community Service Block Grant program, a grant of $2.2 million was given for the project. This is within 10 percent of the $2 million estimate made as the building was being completed in July by an experienced appraiser working for the Reporter.

So why did it end up costing $7 million? That is the question that may be answered by federal and state investigations into the entire issue of Tuscarora finances. The U.S. Justice Department currently is looking into the $100 million grant, and two weeks ago state Sen. George Maziarz said he would ask state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to look into the matter.

"These are public funds and are supposed to be for the benefit of the Tuscarora people," Maziarz said. "But from what my many Tuscarora friends tell me, they're not seeing any benefit at all."

Also still under investigation is a suspicious Aug. 9 fire at a business owned by Ed Farnham, an outspoken Tuscarora critic of the Pattersons, Henry and Winkelstein.

Fire investigators combing through the remains of the large wood-frame building thus far have been unable to determine whether the fire was a simple accident or a deliberate act of arson.

"As you walk through, look at the building, you'll see symbolism, there's tons of symbolism in the building," Patterson said at last week's Nation House dedication.

But nowhere in the building could a dollar sign -- perhaps the most important symbol of them all -- be found.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 30, 2011