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By Mike Hudson

A spokeswoman for the New York Power Authority this week confirmed that the Tuscarora Nation of Indians has, thus far, received $12,484,752 in connection with the relicensing agreement for the Robert Moses Power Plant here.

Connie M. Cullen, deputy director of media relations for NYPA, verified the figure, which has been the subject of some dispute since the Niagara Falls Reporter originally published it last month.

Given that there are fewer than 700 enrolled members of the Tuscarora Nation, every man, woman and child could have received $17,835 since 2007, had the money been divided equally among the tribe. Instead, the checks were mailed to the home of tribal Clerk Leo Henry, leaving a majority of the Tuscarora people unaware of how it is being spent.

Henry received the first check, for $5 million, on Dec. 31, 2005, two years before the relicensing agreement went into effect. In fact, a "finance committee" set up by Henry and Neil Patterson Sr. in early 2007 -- allegedly to decide what the money would be used for -- was never made aware of the fact that the tribe already had received a payment.

The money is part of a $100 million settlement, to be paid out over a period of 50 years, that also includes one megawatt of power annually. One megawatt of power would be enough to provide free electricity to every residence on the reservation, where many homes currently have no power at all.

Asked why NYPA negotiated with Henry, Cullen said that he was the designated representative named by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Henry has since deposited much of what's been received so far into a dizzying array of bank accounts, investment-based certificates of deposit and mutual funds set up under the Tuscarora Nation name.

Records made available to the Reporter show $3,004,503 was deposited in checking, savings and money market accounts at an area bank, while $5,115,300 was divided between CDs with names like Global Basket, U.S. Industry Titans and Income Opportunity. Another $1,461,887 is contained in the Franklin U.S. Government, Real Estate and Total Return funds and the Templeton Global Bond Fund.

Most of the funds have holdings in casinos, tobacco companies and liquor manufacturers, despite the fact that gambling, smoking and drinking are frowned upon by Tuscarora tradition.

The total amounts to $9,581,690, not a dime of which has been distributed among the Tuscarora people. All of these funds pay monthly dividends, although who is cashing those checks also presents something of a mystery.

More millions went toward the construction of the Tuscarora Nation House, built in a field belonging to Henry that was the former site of his outhouse.

The governing council of the Tuscarora consists of Henry, who also serves as tribal clerk, along with Neil Patterson Sr., Neil Patterson Jr. and Kendra Winkelstein, a white woman and a practicing attorney based in Grand Island.

The four have complete control over tribal finances, including the $100 million NYPA settlement. With the exception of the Pattersons and Henry, none of that money has been distributed to members of the tribe, and it wasn't until a May 17 article in the Niagara Falls Reporter revealed the amount of the settlement that the Tuscarora people even knew how much they had received.

Likewise unknown is the amount Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein -- known as the "Gang of Four" on the reservation -- are paying themselves.

Former members of the finance committee say a forensic audit of Tuscarora finances is needed to determine what's going on. No one on the reservation knows how much the Pattersons and Henry are paying themselves, whether numerous additions to the Patterson home have been paid for by the tribe, or where the monthly dividend checks from the nearly $10 million Tuscarora Nation investment pool are going.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com September 12, 2011