Niagara Gazette

November 25, 2013

Toohey sentenced to 33 months over role in Seneca golf course land scam

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

BUFFALO — It took 10 adjournments before he was sentenced but disbarred Lewiston lawyer Timothy Toohey will now be spending the next  33 months in a federal prison.

Toohey, 66, was sentenced Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Arcara for his January 2010 guilty plea to embezzling $202,000 from the $2.1 million Hickory Stick Golf Course project of the Seneca Gaming Corp. He also admitted to filing a false tax return that did not reflect that income.

It will be Toohey's second trip to federal prison. He was sentenced in 2006 to a year in prison for pleading guilty to a charge of tax evasion

His sentencing had been repeatedly postponed, usually at the request of federal prosecutors, with the reasons for the adjournments not made pubic.

As part of a deal with prosecutors, Toohey had agreed to cooperate with them and the FBI in a continuing investigation into the land deal that secured the 251-acre plot of land for the Seneca's casino-related golf course in Lewiston.

As a result of that cooperation, the one-time lawyer and Democratic party activist received a significant reduction in his potential prison term. Prosecutors said Toohey provided “substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of other persons who have committed offenses."

He had faced a maximum possible penalty of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both on the embezzlement charge. The income tax law violation carries a maximum three-year prison term and a fine of $100,000 or both.

Federal sentencing guidelines had pegged Toohey's potential sentence somewhere between 21 and 47 months. 

When he took his plea deal, Toohey said he and Bergal Mitchell III, the former vice chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corp., made an "unlawful agreement" that allowed them to skim money from the land deal. In addition to Toohey's six figure haul, federal prosecutors claim Mitchell got $248,000 and his wife, Rachel, got $90,000.

In February 2011, a federal grand jury indicted Mitchell, 37, of Gowanda, on charges of bribery, theft by an officer or employee of a gaming establishment on Indian land, wire fraud, conspiracy and eight counts of money laundering. Mitchell has pleaded not guilty to those charges and his case is still pending.

The 18-hole Hickory Stick course, designed by world renowned golf architect Robert Trent Jones, opened in June 2010.