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The Trading Post on Cayuga Nation property in Seneca Falls.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen

A state Supreme Court justice has ordered members of the Cayuga Nation to vacate five properties in Seneca Falls, including the gas station and convenience store, so they can be turned over to Clint Halftown and his new federally recognized Cayuga Nation Council.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, a branch of the U.S. Department of Interior, formally recognized Halftown, Tim Twoguns and others as the new leaders of the nation earlier this year, despite an objection by an opposing group formerly known as the Unity Council.

That ruling led to Halftown going to state Supreme Court seeking to evict Cayuga Nation members opposing Halftown who have been running the Seneca Falls properties. With the Interior Department ruling, state Supreme Court Justice Dennis F. Bender ruled Friday that he did have the authority to make a decision in this case and grant an injunction in favor of Halftown.

However, Bender also wrote that his injunction ordering the properties to be vacated "is stayed until September 26, 2017, to allow the defendants herein to make an immediate application to the federal court for a stay of the BIA decision if that is their choice. If the stay is granted, the defendants may make application for an immediate review of this decision and the accompanying order."

Attorney Joseph Heath, who represents several of the Cayuga Nation's chiefs and clan mothers in the Halftown-opposing group, said he's working on just that. Heath plans to file a federal challenge by the end of the week and may also file an appeal in the state's court of appeals. He said he was disappointed with Bender's decision on Friday, but he's confident that the federal court will set aside the BIA's decision.

"What is less predictable is what will happen in the short term," Heath said in a phone interview Monday, questioning if a federal judge will act before the Sept. 26 deadline. "We'll just have to see how this plays out."

Halftown filed the lawsuit in late July following the BIA's recognition of his council. He referenced a takeover of the Seneca Falls businesses in 2014, and is suing the defendants for $10 million, claiming they diverted funds from the nation. Though there has been no decision on the restitution, Bender said those occupying the Seneca Falls properties are not acting under the new council's directives.

"Predicated upon the parties' papers and oral argument, a sufficient showing has been made that the defendants are impermissibly exercising dominion and control over Nation properties contrary to plaintiff's directions, and that monies derived from the commercial operations therein rightfully belong to the plaintiffs, and such monies are currently being diverted by the named defendants," Bender wrote.

He would not, however, grant Halftown's request to keep the defendants from visiting the properties "for lawful purposes."

"We are hoping that this decision will allow our Nation to move past the leadership issue that has plagued us for over 10 years," Halftown said in a press release. "We look forward to regaining control over these properties and generating revenues which will be used for the betterment of all of our citizens." 

Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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