Wampanoag tribe leader indicted for bribery in connection with casino

TAUNTON, Mass. — Cedric Cromwell, the chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, was arrested Friday morning and indicted by federal prosecutors in connection to an alleged bribery scheme related to the tribe’s years-long quest to build a resort casino in Taunton.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office said Cromwell and David DeQuattro of Warwick, R.I., were indicted on two counts of accepting or paying bribes as an agent (or to an agent) of an Indian tribal government and one count of conspiring to commit bribery. Cromwell was also indicted on four counts of extortion under color of official right and one count of conspiring to commit extortion.

Federal prosecutors said an architecture firm owned by DeQuattro provided Cromwell with a “stream of payments and in-kind benefits” totaling $57,549 and, in exchange, the tribe’s Gaming Authority entered a contract that paid the firm approximately $4,966,287. Lelling’s office said Cromwell received $44,000 in personal checks, which the prosecutors allege the chairman spent “on personal expenses, including payments to his mistress.”

“The charges allege that Mr. Cromwell violated the trust he owed the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe by committing extortion, accepting bribes and otherwise abusing his position,” Lelling said. “Many American Indians face a host of difficult financial and social issues. They require - and deserve - real leadership. But it appears that Cromwell’s priority was not to serve his people, but to line his own pockets. We will continue to aggressively investigate public corruption, including by those who purport to serve our American Indian tribes.”

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has been involved in a dispute over its land in trust status for years, which put the brakes on plans for a $1 billion casino on what is now disputed tribal land in Taunton. The tribe was federally-recognized in 2007 and the Obama administration took the land into trust for the tribe in early 2016. But the Trump administration has worked to undo that designation.

The fate of the tribe’s land in trust could also have a significant impact on the state’s commercial casino industry. The Mass. Gaming Commission could still issue a license for a commercial casino in Region C -- the commission’s name for Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties -- but some worry that commercial casino operators might not be willing to invest the minimum $500 million in a project that would have to compete with a nearby tribal casino.

Cromwell and DeQuattro are expected to appear in federal court via videoconference Friday afternoon.

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