Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Files Civil Suit Against Disgraced Former Leader

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The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts wants to recoup alleged financial losses and legal costs from its former leader, That’s after he was found guilty last year of extortion and accepting bribes.

Former Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell in a file photo at the Massachusetts Statehouse in 2017. Cromwell is appealing his bribery and extortion federal conviction. He’s also facing a civil lawsuit from the tribe. (Image: State House News Service)

The tribe has been trying to build a casino resort in Taunton since gaining federal recognition in 2007. After the Mashpees successfully placed 321 acres of land into the federal trust in September 2015, the tribe partnered with Genting, a global gaming operator, to develop a $1 billion integrated resort called First Light Resort and Casino.

In 2020, federal prosecutors brought charges against Cedric Cromwell, the chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe at the time. Cromwell was found guilty in May 2022 on two counts of accepting bribes as an agent of an Indian tribal government, three counts of extortion under the color of official right, and a single count of conspiring to commit extortion.

In November 2022, Cromwell was sentenced to three years in prison and nearly $240K in fines and restitution. He remains a free man as his appeal is ongoing.

The tribe recently filed a civil lawsuit against Cromwell in Massachusetts’ Barnstable County Superior Court on seven charges. They include breach of fiduciary duty, honest services fraud, fraudulent concealment, and civic conspiracy.

The tribe is seeking financial damages as determined by the court or through a settlement, plus interest and legal costs.

Bribery Scandal

Cromwell was elected tribal chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoags in 2009 and was reelected in 2013 and 2017. As chair, the tribe says Cromwell had the authority to “preside over all meetings of the Tribal Council” and “perform the usual duties of a chairperson, including acting as the official spokesperson for the Tribe, engaging in public relations, serving as coordinator over all Tribal government activities, and exercising any authority delegated to him by the Tribal Council.”

Federal prosecutors successfully argued that Cromwell used the First Light casino project to his advantage. Cromwell was convicted of accepting a $10K cash bribe from an architect in exchange for a $5 million design contract.

That architect, David DeQuattro of Rhode Island, was found guilty of bribery and ordered to pay a $50K fine and undergo home confinement for a year with electronic monitoring. Along with the $10K bribe, DeQuattro also gave Cromwell a Bowflex Revolution home gym and provided the tribal chair with a “weekend stay at an upscale Boston hotel in May 2017.”

Federal investigators uncovered a 2017 email from Cromwell, who was married at the time, to DeQuattro that read:

Hello, Dave. I hope all is well. My Birthday is coming up this Friday May 19th and I wanted to spend Friday through Monday at a very nice hotel in Boston for my Birthday weekend. Is it possible that you can get me a nice hotel room at the Four Seasons or a suite at the Seaport Hotel? I am going to have a special guest with me. Please let me know, and Thank You.”

The Mashpees contend in its civil complaint against Cromwell that his wrongdoings caused them business interruptions and impaired their ability to secure ongoing financing because of the reputational harm he drove to the tribe.

Legal Backstory

In 2015, the Mashpees and Genting proposed First Light. But the project was quickly pushed back on by members of the Taunton community in a public opposition campaign bankrolled by casino magnate Neil Bluhm.

Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming remains the lone bidder for the remaining commercial casino license the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) can issue for Region C. That area encompasses the state’s southeastern counties of Bristol, Plymouth, Nantucket, Dukes, and Barnstable. The MGC has held off on issuing the license because of the Mashpees’ ongoing efforts to build a tribal casino in Taunton, which is in Bristol County.

The federal government is responsible for complicating the Mashpees’ legal right to a casino in Taunton.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs under the Obama administration agreed to take the 321 acres of land into the federal trust. Part of that land — about 151 acres — was to be used by the tribe to assure its economic sovereignty through First Light, a project financed by Genting.

Later, under the Trump administration, the BIA  said the agency erred in designating the property as tribal land. Then, in late 2021, during the Biden administration, the agency affirmed the tribe’s historical ties to Taunton and redesignated the tracts as sovereign property.

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