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Massena board hopes to avoid legal action against Mohawks

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MASSENA - The Massena Town Council has decided to hold off on its decision as to whether to join St. Lawrence County in a possible legal action to in an effort to recoup unpaid gaming compact money, Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said.

More than $12 million is owed to St. Lawrence and Franklin counties and the towns of Massena, Brasher, Bombay and Fort Covington after the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe held up sharing its revenues with the state over an exclusivity dispute with a slot machine operation on Ganienkeh Territory in Altona.

Now, St. Lawrence County officials are considering a lawsuit over the unpaid gaming compact money. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has not paid the state casino gaming compact monies since 2010.

The towns of Brasher and Massena were invited to join the county if they opt to take legal action in their effort to get their gaming compact monies.

Mr. Gray said the Town Council decided they would like more time to meet with county legislators and members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council to discuss possible solutions that do not include legal action.

“We want to engage the county, and we want to engage the St. Regis Tribal Council to discuss the matter as a whole,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Gray could not provide a timetable for when the council will makes its decision on whether to support the county’s possible legal action to recoup the unpaid compact money.

“We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks,” he said.

Brasher Town Board members were unanimous during a special meeting Tuesday in saying no to a request to join St. Lawrence County in potentially filing a lawsuit against the state and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe over casino gaming compact monies. Brasher Town Supervisor M. James Dawson met with the Massena Town Council in an executive session Wednesday night.

The county legislature had agreed in early August to hire the Wladis Law Firm, Syracuse, to advise the county and to represent it should it decide to sue. “We were not hired to start a lawsuit against the Mohawks. We were hired to review all the facts, circumstances and laws and then apprise the county legislature of our findings,” attorney Kevin C. Murphy of the Wladis Law Firm told members of the Brasher Town Board via teleconference at a board meeting earlier this month. Mr. Gray said he would also like to entertain the idea of working with their county legislators to receive the gaming compact money from New York state. He noted that the St. Regis Mohawks pay a percentage of their gaming revenue to the state, which then pays it back to the counties and municipalities.

“The Mohawks owe the state money, and that’s not our problem,” Mr. Gray said. “The Mohawks not paying the state doesn’t affect the state not paying us. It is time for people in Albany to grow up and pay us our money.”

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