The former Executive Director of the Seneca Gaming Authority and Cattaraugus community member Marie E. Williams has filed with the Seneca Nation Courts challenging the legality of the January 12, 2022 Settlement Agreement.
Williams’ legal filing is focused on the “assessed costs” within the settlement agreement–costs that go beyond the provisions of the compact, illegal payments that she says President Pagels buried in the agreement. These additional costs have consistently been disputed and denied by the Seneca Gaming Authority — and several Seneca Nation presidents — for nearly ten years.
As the former executive director of the Nation’s gaming regulatory authority, Williams can attest to disputed billings from the New York State Police and New York State Gaming Commission from 2014 to 2019.
“The crux of my legal filing has to do with years of disputed billings that have been consistently denied by five administrations. President Pagels’ settlement agreement must be nullified as release of these disputed funds, that pertain to the New York State Police and New York State Gaming Commission, are unjustified expenses and overbillings that go beyond the scope of the Nation-State Compact,” said Williams.
Procedurally, the New York State Police submit billings to the Nation on a quarterly basis. The State Police billings have been disputed as far back as 2011 and amount to approximately $35 million. In 2013, when the memorandum of understanding was signed to resolve the exclusivity dispute, the state acknowledged that the extent of the State Police duties, and associated costs, did not flow from the compact–yet they continued to submit disputed billings.
The New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) submits separate billings to the Nation on a quarterly basis pursuant to Appendix G of the Compact. The gaming commission billings amount to approximately $18 million. Williams contends that the New York State Gaming Commission has been notified several times that their billings–which have included extraneous, unrelated personal and non-personal items–are not provided for in the Compact.
Williams noted that under the tenures of President Maurice John and President Todd Gates, both executives placed the state on official notice of compact violations regarding the improper billings. Both John and Gates extended offers of good faith negotiations to the state to resolve the disputed billing matters, but those offers went unanswered by the state.
Williams also points out that the assessed costs portion of the settlement agreement–the payment of long-disputed, improper billings–have not been shared with the Seneca people.
“Not only is payment of these illegal billings problematic, but there is a veil of secrecy around this agreement. Our own people are not aware of the “assessed costs” that have been rolled in,” said Williams. “President Pagels is handing the state several million dollars, none of which are provided for in the Compact.”
Williams is placing faith in the Nation’s court system to render this settlement agreement void. “Our people deserve to know the truth and the whole extent of this agreement and how it will affect us now and in the future,” Williams said. “I cannot stand by and allow the State to take advantage of us and attach costs not provided for in the Compact. And the President should not surrender unauthorized monies that have been consistently questioned and denied.”
A separate court filing by another community member alleged that the president’s settlement agreement should be nullified for failing to obtain Council authorization. That case is on appeal in the Nation’s Appellate Court.
Williams said she believes that President Pagels does require Council authorization in keeping with the precedent set in 2013 by then President Barry Snyder, who signed the memorandum of understanding, resolving the exclusivity dispute. The five-time President Snyder inserted a caveat to the exclusivity agreement that stipulated it was subject to Council approval.
“President Pagels and this current Council dismissed a reasonable and consensus-building Snyder precedent,” Williams said. “We are a nation built on custom, tradition, and practice. The precedent for Council authorization is an important one that should not be so readily ignored.”
Williams is a signatory to a petition that was submitted last week to the Department of the Interior and National Indian Gaming Commission to investigate and review the Gaming Compact and the legality of payments to the state.