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Franklin DA: Casino power theft could reach $300,000


AKWESASNE — The tally of alleged power theft at the shuttered Three Feathers Casino could actually be as high as $300,000, Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne said Wednesday.

Investigators have yet to file charges in the power case, and are still examining evidence seized Tuesday during execution of separate state and federal search warrants at the non-tribal gambling parlor on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, Mr. Champagne said.

The illegal electricity connection was made about a year ago, he said, after National Grid shut off service to the Route 37 casino, which was run by a group of Mohawk traditionalists.

In response, someone tapped into a 13,200-volt National Grid power line to feed what the casino’s website described as a 55,000-square-foot facility with 400 gambling machines.

“Whoever did this truly knew what they were doing,” Mr. Champagne said, describing the connection as not the sort of equipment “you could by at your local hardware store.”

Likely state charges in the case include larceny, criminal tampering and theft of services, Mr. Champagne said.

Five men are now facing federal charges of conducting an illegal gambling business and unlawfully possessing gambling devices in Indian country in connection with operation of the casino, which opened in July 2011.

While the casino apparently shut down in September, when investigators saw a sign indicating it was closed for remodeling, it continued to draw power from National Grid until investigators pulled the plug on Tuesday by removing utility company property from the site.

“Obviously, one of the primary concerns was to stop the theft,” said Mr. Champagne, who said his office was prepared to execute a state warrant over the power connection months ago, but held off until the federal case was ready.

Three Feathers was run by individuals associated with Kanienkehaka Kaianerehkowa Kanonhsesne, or the Men’s Council of the People of the Way of the Longhouse, a group of Mohawk traditionalists. Federal officials allege the casino continued to operate in defiance of a Jan. 20 cease and desist order from the St. Regis Tribal Gaming Commission, which maintained the facility was in violation of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s gaming ordinance.

Two defendants — James Gray, 56, Hogansburg and Joseph Hight, 49, of Atlanta — had yet to make a court appearance Wednesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Horsman said, adding that she was not able to elaborate further on their status.

The other defendants, all of Akwesasne, are:

■ William Roger Jock, 51, who surrendered Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Plattsburgh.

■ Anthony Laughing Sr., 65, who surrendered Tuesday at District Court.

■ Thomas Angus Square, 57, who was arrested Tuesday on the reservation.

Following initial appearances in federal court, Mr. Laughing was released on a $50,000 bond with electronic monitoring, Mr. Jock was released on a $10,000 bond and Mr. Square was detained pending a hearing today.

A trial has been set for Feb. 11 in Utica.

Mr. Champagne said the timing of state charges in the power-theft case depends both on review of evidence and the progress of the federal case.

St. Regis tribal officials have not issued any statement in the wake of Tuesday’s searches and arrests. More than 20 tribal police officers assisted with security during Tuesday’s investigation at the casino, which involved dozens of state, local and federal law-enforcement agents.

Charles Kader, clerk of the Men’s Council of the People of the Way of the Longhouse, said Wednesday that the casino was created with the blessing of the Men’s Council, the outcome of a consensus process that followed significant research into its potential viability — research to which Mr. Kader contributed.

While Mr. Kader said he could not comment on the legal case without consulting other Men’s Council members, he did say members felt it was a legitimate economic development venture, and that he hopes the case will bring attention to issues of native sovereignty and the standing of groups such as the Men’s Council.

Whether or not the group has a future in casinos, he said it is too soon to say.

“But I am not aware of any ‘casino 2.0’” plan, Mr. Kader said.

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