MALONE - Franklin County officials are saying they will not be joining their St. Lawrence County colleagues in looking at suing New York state and/or the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe over withheld casino compact funds for two reasons: It would be too expensive and most likely be tied up in court for too much time.
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe had been paying a portion of revenues generated from electronic gaming machines at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino to the state, monies then distributed to Franklin and St. Lawrence counties, as well as the towns of Bombay, Fort Covington, Brasher, and Massena.
They ceased payments in 2010 due to an alleged breach of a gaming exclusivity clause with the state. They say the Ganienkeh Mohawks being allowed to operate a casino on their territory in Altona violated the states part of the bargain. The tribe is still making the payments, but they are being held in escrow by Empire Development Corporation.
Franklin County Board of Legislators Chairman Gordon Crossman (D-Malone) and Legislator Tim Smith (D-Fort Covington) said the board discussed the possibility of a suit and agreed it would be better to wait out litigation that is currently in the courts to get the funds back.
I think its an endeavour that is not to come to fruition by doing it that way, Mr. Crossman said. Taking on the state and taking on the tribe is going to cost a lot more money than this county has.
Mr. Crossman speculated St. Lawrence County is pursuing the litigation because they need the money more desperately than Franklin County. Recently, St. Lawrence County representatives asked the Massena and Brasher town boards if they wanted to join the suit and share the cost; Mr. Crossman said he believes the county extended the offer because it cannot afford the legal bills on its own. St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chairperson Sallie Brothers said in August that the bill could hit between $50,000 and $100,000.
Were (Franklin County) in pretty good shape as far as our budget, Mr. Crossman said.
He said he and Mr. Smith sat down with Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance in recent weeks so the leaders could get to know each other. He said among other topics they discussed land claims issues and the compact, but he would not go into further detail.
Mainly the idea was to sit down and open relations; to get to know each other, Mr. Crossman said.
Part of the problem that many have cited in the past is that the tribe pays the money to the state who then doles it out locally.
The attorney St. Lawrence County has retained, Kevin C. Murphy of the Wladis Law Firm, Syracuse, said he spoke with the tribes general counsel about the possibility of them paying the counties directly. He said they indicated the tribal chiefs felt there were a number of issues that would need to be resolved before they would be willing to consider making payments directly to the county - having the county lobby for the Mohawks position on land claims, assistance in convincing the New York Power Authority in make annual payments to the tribe and support the tribes position that the redevelopment of the former General Motors site be done in an environmentally-correct manner.