AKWESASNE — Federal and state authorities arrested operators of an alleged illegal casino on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, including one man who previously served federal time.
Tony Laughing Sr., Tom Square and William Roger Jock are among those from the Three Feathers Casino were arraigned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Plattsburgh before U.S. Magistrate Larry Kudrle, said Brian Barrett, a Lake Placid attorney representing Jock.
Federal indictments charged the men with unlawful possession of gaming devices and unlawful possession and transportation of a gaming device on Indian territory, he said.
About 15 turned up at the arraignment early Tuesday evening to support the defendants.
“We mantain our sovereign status, and we maintain our sovereign land,” Jock said outside the hearing.
Laughing, 65, who owned Tony’s Vegas International Casino 30 years ago, served time in federal prison for operating an illegal gaming operation in the 1980s.
He was one of 13 Akwesasne residents arrested in July 1989 during a State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation raid on a number of casinos in operation on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. He was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.
Laughing was also convicted in the 1990s as part of a smuggling venture that illegally shipped liquor and cigarettes between Canada and the United States through the reservation. He was sentenced to eight years in federal prison in March 1999.
Barrett said the federal charges made Tuesday against his client and others are in violation of the Treaty of 1794, which states that the federal government cannot act against any member or resident of an Indian territory without going through tribal authorities first.
Three Feathers is situated at the site of the former All Inn Lounge at 439 Route 37 next to the Bear’s Den Trading Post.
Federal officials and State Police executed a search warrant there at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday for the gaming-operation machines and one on behalf of National Grid.
The power company says it is owed more than $200,000 for electrical service it provided to the building in the past two years, Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne said.
He said the ground transformer outside and main power site inside for the 13,200-volt power line were confiscated by National Grid personnel.
“National Grid discontinued service to the building a year ago, but it had been re-hooked up by someone,” the DA said. “That took tremendous effort, to re-hook that building up.
“But with the execution of the search warrant, National Grid got in there and took back its property.”
State charges are pending for larceny, criminal tampering and theft of services, he said.
Three Feathers was opened this summer by the Men’s Council of the Longhouse under the authority of the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwehón:we Gaming Commission.
It is not sanctioned by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, which is the only federally recognized entity with permission to operate gambling sites on Mohawk territory. The recognized venues are the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino and Mohawk Bingo Palace.
The Tribal Council, the federally recognized governmental body on the reservation, has issued a number of closure orders to Three Feathers and has publicly opposed and denounced the gaming and events held there.
Under the agreement it made with the state under former Gov. Mario Cuomo in exchange for exclusive rights to operate gaming facilities in a certain portion of New York, the Tribal Council is required to share a portion of its slot-machine profits with the state, counties and townships directly impacted by the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino, which opened in April 1999.
The funds were to be shared with the state, Franklin County, St. Lawrence County and the towns of Brasher, Massena, Bombay and Fort Covington.
The split during the first four years had the seven parties sharing 18 percent. The share grew to 22 percent for year five to year seven and to 25 percent from year eight in perpetuity.
But in 2010, the Mohawks stopped making payments, claiming the state violated the agreement by allowing Mohawks on the Ganienkeh territory near Altona to operate slot machines on its land.
Ganienkeh Mohawks are recognized separately from Akwesasne Mohawks by the U.S. government.
The Akwesasne casino profits are being held in escrow until the issue is resolved.
Complicating the issue is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s intention to allow off-reservation casinos to open.
And it was those pending issues and “the allocation of resources needed for that” that played a role in Champagne’s willingness to let the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecute the alleged gaming violations at Three Feathers Casino under the broader federal law rather than locally.
Charges were dropped against Jock for grand larceny earlier this year for allegedly taking over a parcel that is deeded to someone else within the disputed land-claims area of the reservation known as the Bombay Triangle.
Email Denise A. Raymo: firstname.lastname@example.org