Two accused of lying to agents about derailment

Two residents of the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus Territory are charged with lying to FBI agents and state police investigating the attempted derailment of a passenger train carrying 354 people.

And they also are charged with urging another witness to lie about the July 5 incident, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Christine Seneca, 44, and James E. Phillips, 48, both of Old Lakeshore Road in Irving, are charged in connection with the ongoing investigation.

"These are serious charges, and we consider the derailment a very serious crime -- the attempted murder of 354 people," U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said Friday afternoon.

"We are making progress in this investigation, but people need to be aware that if they lie about it, or try to convince others to lie, they will be charged."

Phillips and Seneca, who live together according to court papers, pleaded not guilty during an appearance Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott. They could not be reached to comment Friday.

Seneca works in a Seneca Nation bingo hall, according to court papers.

A court document filed by prosecutor Robert C. Moscati indicated that authorities have focused their investigation on four men in connection with the early morning derailment of an Amtrak train.

The court papers say investigators believe the four men attended a party on Triangle Drive in Irving on the night of July 4, and then left the party on foot.

The documents indicated that police were told that the four men were walking along the railroad tracks after the party, and that one of the men later claimed responsibility for putting railroad ties on the tracks, attempting to derail the train.

Police obtained information that Phillips and Seneca were at the same Triangle Drive party, Moscati said. Both Phillips and Seneca gave false answers when asked who was at the party, he said, adding both individuals also told another person to lie about who attended the party.

Agents consider the investigation a high priority and are asking anyone with helpful information to contact the FBI's Buffalo office at 856-7800. The FBI has posted a $20,000 reward for information leading to convictions.

The Amtrak train was moving at 70 miles per hour when it was derailed on Seneca land near the Cattaraugus Creek railroad bridge in Irving. After the train hit a barricade made of old railroad ties, the crew applied the emergency brakes, but it took about a mile for the train to stop, Moscati said in court papers.

"Representatives of Amtrak opined that the design of the barricade was such that it could have derailed a train, potentially resulting in a large number of injuries or deaths," the prosecutor said.

Police believe the crime may have been a reaction to efforts by the state and federal governments to tax Seneca cigarette sales and to prevent the mailing of cigarettes. But so far, investigators say they cannot be certain about the motive.

Police said they found a sign near the tracks reading "No Mail -- No Rail."