Western Mohegans File For U.S. Bankruptcy in Fight For Their Land

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The Western Mohegan Nation of about 200 members are descendants of the original Muh-hea-kun-nuk who predated European conquest of America. The Western Mohegans fought for their land back in recent years by sending rent bills to local governments along the Hudson River Valley, including Ulster County for years.

[Black Star News]

A dispute over attorney fees has forced the Western Mohegan Nation, whose home is now in Ulster County in Upstate New York, to seek U.S. bankruptcy protection today, The Black Star News has learned.

Chief Ron Roberts of the Western Mohegan Nation says March 15 was the scheduled date of auction of the Western Mohegans' 250 acres property in Ulster County. The Nation had purchased the property in a 2000 deal that also settled with Ulster County land claims by the Western Mohegans.  

"All we wanted was a little land we can call our own," Chief Roberts said. In addition to the right to operate casinos, the chief says, the Nation wanted to engage in "hydrophonic growing of vegetables" as well a water bottling plant. "We have an abundance of fresh water," he says.

He says every Indian deserves a piece of land and property instead of wandering around as a homeless Nation; they owned all the land. "I want to thank anybody that helps Indians in this country," he says.

Speaking before a group of journalists at Sankofa Academy in Brooklyn last week, Chief Roberts 64, couldn't control his emotions and briefly broke down while describing the possible loss of the property and displacement of his Nation.

Chief Roberts is also known as Chief Golden Eagle. The Western Mohegan Nation of about 200 members are descendants of the original Muh-hea-kun-nuk who predated European conquest of America. In recent years, the Western Mohegans fought for their land back by sending rent bills to local governments along the Hudson River Valley, including Ulster County.

Finally, Ulster County made a deal. After agreeing to drop their claims, the Western Mohegans were allowed to purchase the property and land near Ellenville, for $900,000. A resolution approving the deal was unanimously adopted 31 - 0 by the Ulster County legislature, records show. Additionally, in lieu of taxes, since the Nation was regarded as sovereign, the Western Mohegans were to pay the County $25,000 annually and 5% of the profits generated from enterprise from the land, such as casinos for example, up to a maximum of $250,000.

The Mohegans paid the county $900,000, for the county's share of the former Tamarack Hotel and the land with money from one of their investors who was part of an investment group from Chicago, Chief Roberts says. When the Western Mohegans tried to get a clean deed, they found out that there was an additional $950,000 lien against the property, which had been in bankruptcy. The previous owner was Neil's Mazel, who wanted $950,000 for his interests.

The Mohegans paid the additional amount by writing a check for $300,000 and taking a Note for $650,000, Roberts says. The Western Mohegans were represented by Bart Nachamie of the New York firm, Todtman Nachamie Spizz & Johns at the closing.

The $650,00 Note was secured by a Confession of Judgement --it allows lenders quick low cost way to obtain a Judgment against a delinquent borrower or preserve the priority of a lender’s lien-- in 2001 to the bankrupt company, which then registered the judgment with the clerk of the court against the land.  When the note was paid --which it was, by the Chicago investors, Chief Roberts says-- the Confession of Judgement would have no value. According to Chief Roberts, Nachamie never had the judgment removed or get acknowledgment that the note was canceled after the Chicago investors had satisfied the $650,000 balance.

He says relations between the Nation and Nachamie deteriorated over money owed by the Nation for legal fees.
In 2010, Nachamie informed the Western Mohegans that the confessional judgment was still valid and he moved for an auction of the Western Mohegans' property with the sheriff's office, Chief Roberts says.

Nachamie, when contacted by The Black Star News, said he was assigned the Note by some of the Western Mohegan's investors. He says he was owed a substantial sum of money. 

He said the Note was valid and that State Supreme Court in Ulster County had come to the same conclusion. "I feel bad about it," he said when asked about the breakdown of the relationship between him and the Western Mohegans. "But I want to be paid. I have employees that need to be paid. I need to be paid." 

"We are going to fight against the bankruptcy petition," he added. "I fail to understand how a group that says it's sovereign can file for bankruptcy protection."

When asked if there was any other way to resolve the dispute, Nachamie said: "Yes, somebody can pay us. Anything is possible." 

He would not say how much it was but did say it was less than the value of the Note. "This stays all actions," Nachamie said, referring to the bankruptcy protection filing.

Chief Roberts says the Western Mohegans' property is worth $6 million and that the Nation owed Nachamie about $150,000; he says Nachamie himself had asked for $257,000.

Chief Roberts believes there's a coordinated attempt to take back the Western Mohegans' land.  "The White man takes back what he gives, which he took in the first place," he says.

Ulster County also has incentive for the Western Mohegans to leave, he says. A few years after the deal, even though the legislature's resolution recognized the Mohegans as sovereign, the council started claiming that it was owed back taxes. 

"We hope this allows us to get on our feet, keep our land and do good things," Chief Roberts said, of bankruptcy protection.

The filing was in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Illinois.


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