Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Facing Bribery and Extortion Charges Relating to $1bn Casino Project

  • The charges relate to the tribe's $1bn resort casino development plans
  • The chairman received almost $60k in bribes in return for $5m in contracts to an architecture firm
  • Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is in a long legal battle over its casino project in Taunton
Men exchanging bribe money with a handshake
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s chairman is facing bribery and extortion charges for accepting money and gifts in exchange for contracts on the tribe’s $1bn casino project. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Abuse of power

Authorities arrested and charged the chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts as part of a bribery scheme involving tribal plans to build a $1bn resort casino. 

Cedric Cromwell, the tribal chairman, was indicted on charges of paying or accepting bribes, extortion, and conspiracy to commit bribery. Federal prosecutors announced the charges on Friday. Architecture firm owner David DeQuattro is also facing bribery-related charges.

extort bribes worth tens of thousands of dollars

FBI Boston field office chief Joseph Bonavolonta outlined how Cromwell allegedly used his role as chairman to extort bribes worth tens of thousands of dollars. He was also allegedly part of a bribery conspiracy alongside DeQuattro.

In his statement, Bonavolonta explained how the actions of both men undermined and betrayed the trust of the tribe’s members. He said: “Cases like this fuel our commitment to rooting out public corruption.”

Details of the bribes

DeQuattro allegedly gave Cromwell payments and other benefits worth almost $60,000 from 2014 until 2017. In return, the tribe’s chairman awarded almost $5 million worth of tribal gaming authority contracts to DeQuattro. Cromwell is also the head of the tribe’s gaming authority. 

Cromwell reportedly used the bribe money to pay personal expenses, including sending payments to his mistress. Some of the non-payments as part of the bribe to Cromwell included a used home gym and a weekend stay in a Boston hotel.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling also made a statement on the case, speaking about how the American Indian community deserves real leadership. Lelling said that it appears Cromwell’s priority was not serving his people, but to line his pockets. 

Tribe’s legal battle

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is looking to develop its $1bn First Light Casino in Taunton, south of Boston. Over the years, however, there have been a number of legal setbacks, leading to a pause in the project. 

In September 2015, the US Department of Interior put 321 acres of land in Taunton and Mashpee into a federal trust reservation for the Cape Cod-based tribe. The plan was to then build the casino on this land, but locals objected.

Earlier this year, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt sought to disestablish the tribe’s reservation in Taunton. This would remove the land from the federal trust and the casino project would be unable to proceed. In June, a federal judge stopped the disestablishment and ordered the Department of the Interior to conduct a review of the issue.