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Seneca Anti-Grisanti PR Gone Bad (UPDATED x2)

14 Feb

I realize that the facts are still fluid with respect to the night that State Senator Mark Grisanti and his wife had at the Seneca Niagara Casino this past weekend. I don’t know how intoxicated anyone was, but whoever was the physical aggressor(s) here is in the wrong. 

The Grisantis got out front of the story right away over the weekend, and Seneca loyalists pushed back hard on Monday, accusing Grisanti of “sticking his nose in” where it didn’t belong, and of being intoxicated; neither of which justify being physically pummeled, incidentally. 

I think the incident highlights the primary reason why the Pataki deal to allow the Senecas to annex sovereign exclaves in downtown Buffalo and Niagara Falls was so fundamentally wrongheaded. If we’re to have class III casino gaming in these cities, then it should be legal, tightly regulated, and well taxed. Instead, we’ve permitted a situation where a foreign nation is able to carve out a swath of downtown with dubious police and court jurisdiction when we have alleged crimes and altercations such as this. 

Yesterday, a young Buffalonian named Matt Ricchiazzi inserted himself into the Grisanti matter. Ricchiazzi is a relatively recent Cornell graduate, and has somewhat famously failed to make the ballot in just about every political race he’s run.  He’s had some good ideas for Buffalo under the auspices of his changebuffalo.org, but the perception in the political community is that he wants a fast track to political power without doing much grassroots-type legwork, like becoming a committeeman, for instance. He was, at last check, a supporter of Senator Grisanti, even after the passage of same-sex marriage legislation last year. 

However, Ricchiazzi’s most recent known employment was with Seneca Holdings, LLP, the Seneca Nation’s investment entity. I don’t know whether he is a registered Seneca, but his “religious views” are listed at Facebook as “Haudenosaunne/Ongweo:weh”. 

In the wake of the Grisantis-go-to-the-Casino story, Ricchiazzi took to a Twitter account he seldom (if ever) previously used, and has just as quickly deleted. Because his Twitter account has been deleted, I had to scan through a cached version of the Twitter apps on my phone: 

Ricchiazzi was incensed that the media were reporting that “Seneca businessmen” at the bar had beaten the Grisantis without provokation. He was pushing a story that Grisanti was extremely intoxicated and belligerent, and took to Twitter to argue with Grisanti supporter and Republican political strategist Michael Caputo. 

 

Later in the day, I received an email from Ricchiazzi, as did just about every other current and former journalist and commentator working in Buffalo. Including a few weatherpeople.

 

I emailed him back,

 

WGRZ’s Michael Wooten echoed my request, to which Ricchiazzi responded, 

When I asked him if he was speaking on behalf of the Seneca Nation, he replied that he was not; that he was speaking only as an individual. 

So, why did Ricchiazzi suddenly quiet down and delete his Twitter account? Sources close to the Grisanti camp say that Ricchiazzi has been contacted by the authorities. Over the weekend, Ricchiazzi sent text messages to Senator Grisanti and his chief of staff, Doug Curella. In those text messages, which have been turned over to the police, Ricchiazzi claims that he saw the surveillance and knows that Grisanti and his wife were drunk instigators, that the Senator used a racial slur, and that Ricchiazzi would run a Republican to primary Grisanti on that line, in conjunction with a relentless smear campaign. This would likely set up a 3-way race, as Carl Paladino (a genuine, if flawed, player in Republican politics) has already pledged to support a right-wing primary against Grisanti. 

But Ricchiazzi apparently went one step too far – in one text, he allegedly demanded a $20,000/month job from Grisanti in exchange for his silence and to prevent him from smearing and running a candidate against the Senator. Obviously, Grisanti’s team was tickled by the idea of a kid who couldn’t get on the ballot for the the Buffalo school board throwing fictitious political weight around, but the demand for money was more insidious and likely illegal extortion or blackmail. The Grisanti aide who received the text replied that this demand was completely inappropriate, and Ricchiazzi “withdrew” his “offer”. 

Yet sources close to the Senator also say that Ricchiazzi sent a text message to Grisanti himself on Saturday, expressing shock and dismay at what had happened to him and his wife at the casino. In it, Ricchiazzi told the Senator to sue the casino and the Senecas for the assault, and that Ricchiazzi could act as an advisor against the Senecas on the Senator’s behalf. 

Larceny by extortion is defined in New York’s Penal Law 155.05(2)(e) when a person, “compels or induces another person to deliver … property to himself or to a third person by means of instilling in him a fear that, if the property is not so delivered, the actor or another will: … Accuse some person of a crime or cause criminal charges to be instituted against him; or (v) Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule; …or (ix) Perform any other act which would not in itself materially benefit the actor but which is calculated to harm another person materially with respect to his health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation or personal relationships.”

It would appear that Ricchiazzi’s texts threatened to accuse Grisanti of criminal or socially unacceptable behavior if Grisanti didn’t pay Ricchiazzi $20,000/mo. Police are investigating the matter.  The Buffalo News obtained vertical iPhone video of the fight’s aftermath, and it is silent due to profanity, and the News says no one uses a racial epithet. It’s not really conclusive of much.  The Niagara Falls Police are not bringing any criminal charges. But whatever PR headway the Senecas may be making with respect to this incident, Ricchiazzi’s self-insertion in the controversy hasn’t furthered that effort. 

At 8pm Monday night, I emailed Ricchiazzi for a comment, informing him that I was running with this story regarding his text messages to the Senator and his aide, and noting the deletion of his Twitter account. I told him I would be completing my story at 6:30am on Tuesday. Apart from a “Thanks!”, I have not received anything more substantive from Mr. Ricchiazzi.  

UPDATE:  I called Phil Pantano, the spokesperson for Seneca Gaming, who informs me that he’s never heard of Mr. Ricchiazzi, that he’s had no contact with Mr. Ricchiazzi, and that whatever Mr. Ricchiazzi was trying to do was not in any way solicited or sanctioned by the Seneca Gaming Corporation. Mr. Ricchiazzi emailed me after this post went up to say, 

I’d be happy to tell you the story — and a lot of other stories on Grisanti’s office that pale in comparison to this recent incident.  We should meet for coffee sometime and discuss. Let me know when you’re free.
 
Looking forward to speaking with you,

 

UPDATE x2: Mr. Ricchiazzi emails as follows: 

My text message to Mark on Saturday morning was in the context of just having read initial media reports, which suggested that Maria was horrifically beaten. I spent 5 months of my life helping Grisanti get elected, and Maria has treated me so kindly. She is such a nice, gracious, beautiful person. I wanted to make sure Maria was alright, and at that time I encouraged Mark to file a lawsuit.

After I realized that Mark was using the racist stereotype of “drunk Indians” as an escape goat for his own drunken intoxication, I was upset that Doug would recommend such an inappropriate and racist media strategy. As a friend, I told Doug that the video and audio footage that exists is damning and is a political liability.

Via text message to Doug, I offered to help them walk back their racism as a media consultant, and told them my monthly rate, which is not unreasonable for the industry. Doug misinterpreted me trying to be helpful as a threat, and responded offensively, as if I was trying to demand something from them.

I was offended by his reaction to my offer of help, and even more deeply offended by their use of racism and unfair stereotypes against Native Americans — and I will be saying so publicly to combat this type of bias. Political speech is the most legally protected of all speech.

I did not commit, consider, or attempt to do anything illegal.

I’m puzzled by your characterization of this situation, which I frankly don’t understand. I don’t see how I’m the story, or how I’m central to this situation. I took extensive coursework in indigenous political theory as an undergraduate, and I’m an activist on Native issues. That’s all.

He also adds: 

I’m not affiliated with the Seneca Nation of Indians. I’m Cayuga, bear clan. My usage of the word “us” that you cite, I admit, was too loose.

 

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