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By Mike Hudson

The 10-acre lot that is now the site of the $7 million Tuscarora Nation House was obtained from tribal Clerk Leo Henry, who formerly used it as the location for his outhouse, the Niagara Falls Reporter learned this week.

Because there are no public records available even to the Tuscaroras themselves, it is unknown whether Henry sold the land outright or is involved in some sort of lease arrangement. What is known is that Henry, arguably the most powerful person on the Tuscarora Reservation, had a large role in determining where the Nation House would be located.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the New York Power Authority officially recognize Henry, along with the father-and-son team of Neil Patterson Sr. and Neil Patterson Jr., and Grand Island attorney Kendra Winkelstein, as the rulers of the Tuscarora Nation.

Since 2005, more than $12 million has been sent directly to Henry's residence as part of the $100 million Power Authority settlement agreement, and "tribal council" meetings are regularly held at the Patterson home, where uninvited guests are made to feel decidedly unwelcome.

The controversial Nation House project has attracted the attention of a large number of Tuscaroras who want to know where their money has gone. A block grant obtained from the federal Department of Health and Human Services pegged the cost of the building at $2.2 million, while an independent appraiser working for the Reporter set the cost slightly lower, at $2 million.

So how did the 38,000-square-foot wood-frame structure end up costing $7 million? Part of it went to Neil Patterson Sr. -- who, despite having no known credential in the construction business, served as a "consultant" on the project, netting himself a cool $87,000 for less than a year's work.

Repeated calls by the Reporter last week to the number listed for the Tuscarora Nation of Indians were picked up by an answering machine with a robotic recording. None was returned. The Reporter did manage to get ahold of the Nation's attorney, Kendra Winkelstein, but she refused comment. The paper would have to call the number it already had called repeatedly to speak to anyone, she said.

The paper was unable to find an office number for Winkelstein, and the number on record in both official Tuscarora documents and the telephone directory is that of her cell phone -- which is a highly unusual situation for a practicing attorney, in that most of them have offices.

Numerous questions remain to be answered.

How much of the $12.5 million the Nation has received thus far from the Power Authority settlement have Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein paid themselves in salaries and benefits?

Nobody seems to know.

The 10 acres Henry provided for the erection of the Nation House are worth around $50,000. How much did he actually get for them?

Again, nobody seems to know.

What was the cause of the suspicious Aug. 9 blaze that destroyed a building and business belonging to Ed Farnham, an outspoken critic of Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein?

After nearly a month, fire investigators from two agencies have yet to make a determination.

Agents from the U.S. Department of Justice have opened an active investigation into the mysterious situation on the Tuscarora Reservation, and state Sen. George Maziarz has asked state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to look into why the $100 million Power Authority settlement has had virtually no effect on the quality of life for the vast majority of the Tuscarora people.

Since the fire at Farnham's business, even former critics of the ruling clique -- known on the reservation as the "Gang of Four" -- have been circumspect and reluctant to speak on the record.

Without a thorough investigation by some outside agency, it is unlikely that any answers will be forthcoming. Because Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein aren't talking.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com September 6, 2011