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Senecas insist land buys comply with law Statement from nation's leader leaves open possibility of more purchases in Buffalo

Seneca Nation President Barry E. Snyder Sr. said Friday the tribe's land purchases comply with state and federal law, but he stopped short of clearly saying the Senecas are done buying land in Buffalo.

"All of the land acquisitions and casino development efforts of the Nation in the City of Buffalo have been in accordance with the Seneca Settlement Act of 1990, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and the Nation's Class III gaming compact with the state," Snyder said in a letter to Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo. Snyder also said the U.S. Department of the Interior had allowed the tribe's purchase of nine acres of land in Buffalo's Cobblestone District to go through, meaning the Buffalo casino site is now sovereign Seneca territory.

However, Snyder's letter doesn't clearly say the tribe has bought all the land it needs. Instead, he wrote: "We see no need for any further land acquisitions utilizing provisions of the Seneca Settlement Act to implement Compact requirements."

Higgins, who wrote to Snyder earlier this week to question the Senecas' land deals, said he was unsure of what Snyder was trying to say about the tribe's land purchases.

The congressman said he plans to meet with Snyder next week.

"I hope to get a clarification on that very issue," Higgins said.

Snyder could not be reached to clarify the meaning of his statement. But it could mean one of two things.

It could mean the Senecas have purchased all the land they need for their Buffalo casino.

Or it could mean they have done what they need to do to satisfy their 2002 casino compact with the state: that is, begin construction of a casino in Erie County within 36 months of the gambling deal's effective date. The Senecas met that requirement by holding a groundbreaking at the site last Dec. 9.

The exchange of letters between Higgins and Snyder followed a Buffalo News story Sunday that revealed the Senecas' two-step land purchase procedures. In both Buffalo and Niagara Falls, the tribe's gambling corporation bought land for millions and then sold it to the tribe for as little as $1 a parcel.

The Senecas have refused to explain those moves. But they appear to be intended to extend the life and value -- of a $30 million congressionally designated fund the tribe can use to buy land.

Casino critics have said that two-step purchase procedure could allow the Senecas to buy unlimited amounts of land in Western New York. And Higgins has said the purchases appear to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the tribe's gambling deal with the state. Snyder "clearly sidestepped the issue that Congressman Higgins raised," said Joseph Finnerty, a lawyer for a group of Buffalo residents suing the federal government in hopes of stopping the casino.


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