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Three Feathers casino operators indicted on illegal-gambling charges

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AKWESASNE — It appears all bets are off at a controversial native-run casino.

Five men have been indicted on federal charges of operating an illegal gambling business on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, and the Mohawk traditionalists associated with the Three Feathers Casino also could face additional state charges in connection with $200,000 in alleged electricity theft through an unauthorized power connection at the site.

The Dec. 12 indictment, product of a yearlong, multiagency probe, culminated in execution of separate federal and state search warrants at the shuttered casino Tuesday morning by federal, state and local law enforcement agents.

Federal officials said James Gray, William Roger Jock, Thomas Angus Square and Anthony Laughing Sr., all of Hogansburg, and Joseph Hight, of Atlanta, Ga., face federal charges of conducting an illegal gambling business and unlawfully possessing gambling devices in Indian country.

The maximum potential penalty for the first count is five years’ prison time and a $250,000 fine. The second count carries up to two years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

No one associated with the operation was present Tuesday morning when agents converged on the casino, which has been closed for about three months, federal officials said. A recording indicated the casino’s telephone number was disconnected.

Mr. Square, 57, was arrested Tuesday morning on the reservation. Mr. Jock, 51, and Mr. Laughing, 65, surrendered late Tuesday afternoon at U.S. District Court in Plattsburgh. Mr. Gray, 56, and Mr. Hight, 49, had not been arrested as of Tuesday night.

Mr. Laughing, who ran Tony’s Vegas International casino in the 1980s, was convicted in federal court on illegal-gambling charges in 1990 and served part of a 2-year sentence for that crime. He later served more federal time following a 1998 guilty plea to racketeering and money laundering charges for smuggling cigarettes and alcohol into Canada from the reservation.

“Unauthorized and unregulated casinos in Indian country detract from legitimate gambling operations whose proceeds are meant to help sustain Native American communities so they can develop programs and provide services that further public safety, public health and self-determination,” said Richard S. Hartunian, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York.

The gambling parlor at 439 Route 37 was launched in July 2011 by the Kanienkehaka Kaianerehkowa Kanonhsesne, or the Men’s Council of the People of the Way of the Longhouse. They are not associated with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, the only governing body on the reservation recognized by the state.

Federal officials allege Three Feathers continued to operate until September of this year, in defiance of a Jan. 20 cease and desist order from the St. Regis Tribal Gaming Commission, which said the facility was in violation of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s gaming ordinance.

“I don’t know whether these are good or bad charges, but they are ridiculous charges, and we are going to fight them all the way,” said Lake Placid attorney Brian P. Barrett, who represents Mr. Jock.

Mr. Barrett said the arrests violate a 1794 treaty that requires the federal government to seek authority from tribal authorities before initiating proceedings against any member or resident of an Indian territory.

“Federal law has been broken,” Mr. Barrett said.

A statement released by federal officials said the investigation was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police Department and the tribal gaming commission.

St. Regis spokesman David T. Staddon said the tribe would not have a statement Tuesday before the release of the federal indictment, which remained sealed until late in the day.

Whatever the legality of the arrests, the casino operators have been open in their defiance of tribal authority.

The Men’s Council, which considers itself a sovereign people, “ignored the order and refuse to shut it down,” according to a statement on the casino’s website, still visible to the public Tuesday night.

The indictment alleges that active operation continued until about Sept. 10, when a sign indicated the casino was closed for remodeling.

More than 20 tribal police officers assisted with security during Tuesday’s investigation at the casino, which also was part of an ongoing larceny, criminal tampering and theft of services probe conducted by state police, the St. Regis Tribal Police and the Franklin County district attorney’s office.

Franklin County District Attorney Derek P. Champagne said the state warrant, which did not result in any arrests, focused on a power pole that carries electricity into the building, as well as a ground transformer and the main power access to the facility. Investigators seized National Grid property from the site, Mr. Champagne said.

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 Thursday.

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

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