Seneca Gaming official allowed travel abroad

BUFFALO In June, when Bergal L. Mitchell III pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about ripping off the Seneca Nation of Indians and the Seneca Gaming Corp., he was expected to be on his way to prison by October 7.

Instead, Mitchell spent the day he was due to start his time behind bars in Venice, Italy, preparing to board a cruise ship to Greece.

The felon s fall vacation was approved by a federal court judge without opposition from the United States Attorney s Office.

And it s not the first time since Mitchell s February 2011 indictment in a land scam deal that he has taken off to parts as varied as Florida, Alaska, Canada, Mexico and even Helsinki, Finland. For each of those trips, Mitchell needed the approval of U.S.

District Court Judge Richard Arcara.

In none of those instances, did prosecutors in the office of U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. raise any objection to Mitchell s extensive travel and what have been described as vacation-related trips.

The one-time top ranking executive of the Seneca Gaming Corp. was charged in a 13-count federal grand jury indictment with multiple crimes including embezzlement, theft, fraud, and lying to FBI agents.

A former tribal councilor of the Seneca Nation of Indians and vice chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corp., Mitchell was required to surrender his passport when he was first arraigned on the federal charges. As a requirement of his release from custody on his own recognizance, Mitchell was also barred from traveling outside the eight New York counties that make up the Western District of New York for the United States District Courts.

Yet just days after that, without opposition from the U.S. Attorney, U.S. Department of Probation and with the approval of the court, Mitchell took off to Florida for a family vacation.

A year later, in February 2012, again, without opposition from federal prosecutors, the ban on Mitchell s travel within the United States was lifted. Two years after that, Mitchell, for unspecified reasons, was allowed to travel to Finland.

During that time, Mitchell s case remained active and unresolved.

The grand jury indictment charged that Mitchell, in 2006, stole $338,000 from a payment of $2.1 million that the Seneca Nation and its subsidiaries made to purchase 251 acres of farmland in Lewiston.

That land was used to develop what is now the Seneca Hickory Stick Golf Course.

In September 2008, Mitchell was interviewed by FBI agents who were investigating the land purchase. During the interview, Mitchell tried to cover up the theft by telling the agents that he had no knowledge of a $248,000 wire transfer to an account belonging to his late half-brother.

Mitchell also lied about taking $125,000 from those funds and using it to purchase a home for his parents. Investigators said Mitchell personally delivered a check in that amount to the sellers of the house.

And Mitchell lied to the FBI about using $23,000 of the stolen money to make a loan to a friend.

The federal investigation into the Hickory Stick transaction also swept up Lewiston lawyer Timothy Toohey, who helped broker the deal.

Toohey pleaded guilty to illegally receiving $202,000 of the proceeds from the sale.

He was sentenced, after cooperating with prosecutors, to 33 months in prison.

Mitchell, 41, of Gowanda, faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced by Arcara.

When contacted by the Gazette about Mitchell s globe trotting Tuesday night, the U.S.

Attorney s Office said, Unless there is a concern about a danger to the community or non-appearance, the government defers to the courts (on applications by defendants to travel).

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