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Senecas to meet on lost money $900,000 is missing in purchase of land

The Seneca Nation of Indians has scheduled an extraordinary meeting Wednesday on its terrority with federal prosecutors looking into the missing $900,000 from the Senecas' purchase of land in Lewiston for a championship golf course.

Robert Odawi Porter, an attorney in the Seneca's Department of Justice, has invited all Seneca councillors and executives who were in office during 2004 and 2005, according to a memo that Porter had hand-delivered by Seneca marshals to those invited.

The Buffalo News reported Sept. 16 that FBI agents had started an investigation into the Seneca Gaming Corp.'s $2.1 million land purchase for its $25 million Hickory Stick golf course now under construction in Lewiston.

The News reported that Seneca Gaming had demanded the resignation of gaming board member Bergal Mitchell III, a Seneca who is a former tribal councillor. FBI agents, The News said, had also raided the law offices of Lewiston attorney Michael Dowd, who sold the property to Seneca Gaming.

Wednesday's closed-door session with prosecutors, set for 10 a.m. in the William Seneca Building on the Allegany Reservation, will be led by Kathleen Mehltretter, the first deputy U.S. attorney in Buffalo, according to the memo obtained by The News.

Representing the Seneca Nation, Porter said in the memo, will be Michael A. Battle, Mehltretter's former boss as U.S. attorney, and a key figure in the Bush administration's scandal over political firings in the U.S. Justice Department.

Battle was head of the Justice Department's executive office during the scandal, and while he was never accused of wrongdoing, he was pictured in a special counsel's report as the man who delivered the bad news to those let go for political reasons.

Battle, who is now a partner with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski, did not return a telephone call to comment. Neither did Porter.

Mehltretter refused to confirm Wednesday's meeting, saying that her personal schedule is not a matter of public record.

Senecas who have learned of the meeting said it raised troubling questions over their sovereignty.

"That's where we pass our laws," a Seneca said of the session set for the meeting room of the Seneca Tribal Council. "I can't imagine the feds going into the halls of Congress."

Joseph V. Sedita, an attorney representing Bergal Mitchell III, declined to comment. "We were not invited," he said of the meeting.

Porter's memo to the former Seneca councillors said that Mehltretter and her aides will "conduct a briefing on the status of their investigation and their desire to speak with you as part of the process in the days and weeks to come."

After Mehltretter speaks, Porter said, Battle and the Seneca Department of Justice will then talk to the former Seneca elected officials.

"To be clear," Porter wrote, "this is an informational meeting and any questioning by representatives of the U.S. Attorney's office or the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be scheduled for a future date."

The Seneca Tribal Council cleared the way for the session on Oct. 11, when it passed a resolution "to authorize participation in Lewiston land transaction investigation/approval."

The council resolution said that Seneca attorneys had met with the U.S. attorney's office Sept. 20 and had learned from prosecutors that Seneca Gaming and the Seneca Nation "have been the victims of criminal fraud in the acquisition of the Lewiston land."

The resolution also said that the Seneca Nation will pay to have attorneys represent "current and former Nation officials (except for Bergal L. Mitchell III) relating to their official duties in connection with the Lewiston land transaction . . ."

Hickory Stick, designed by Robert Trent Jones II, one of the world's top course designers, is scheduled to open next year.


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