Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Former Mashpee chairman asks tribe to cover legal cost in bribery case

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Cedric Cromwell, the former chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts, has asked his Native American community to cover his legal costs.

Cromwell was indicted on federal bribery and extortion charges last month. A grand jury found credible evidence that the then-tribal chairman received unlawful kickbacks in relation to the tribe’s efforts to build a $1 billion casino resort in Taunton.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has received a request from Cromwell for the tribe to compensate him during his legal fight. The 55-year-old has denied the allegations that he acted wrongly as chairman.

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“Mr. Cromwell vigorously denies these allegations and looks forward to presenting an aggressive defense,” his attorney Tim Flaherty told the Cape Cod Times.

Cromwell’s case is set to begin on February 4.

Tribal Resort Background

The Mashpees have been trying to become a gaming tribe for more than half of a decade.

It acquired 151 acres of land in Taunton that it believes has ancestral ties, and therefore the property qualifies to be deemed sovereign. The Interior Department agreed in 2015, and took the land into federal trust.

The federal agency, however, reversed its own decision three years later and removed the land from the registrar. The case has since been tangled up in courts, and has caught the attention of lawmakers in DC, who believe the matter has become political

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and outgoing Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts) have supported federal legislation that would sidestep the Interior Department under the Trump administration and deem the land sovereign.

But President Donald Trump successfully urged Senate Republicans to reject the bill after it passed the House.

Casino Scheme

Adding to the chaos surrounding the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s mission to build a casino are the Cromwell accusations. The Department of Justice alleges that Cromwell was paid $57,549 in cash and in-kind benefits from David DeQuattro, a businessman who runs an architectural firm in Rhode Island.

Prosecutors say DeQuattro provided Cromwell with the money and free trips in exchange for a $5 million design contract.

“Instead of working honestly on behalf of the Mashpee Wampanoags as their duly elected representative, Cedric Cromwell is accused of using his position as chairman of the tribe to enrich himself by extorting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes and engaging in a conspiracy with David DeQuattro to commit bribery,” said Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division.

DeQuattro last month entered into a not-guilty plea after he, too, was charged in the alleged bribery and extortion plot. He is facing two federal charges of accepting or paying bribes to an Indian tribal government or agent, and one count of conspiring to commit bribery.

Cromwell is facing the same charges, as well as four additional counts of extortion and another count of conspiring to commit extortion.

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If found guilty, Cromwell could spend upwards of 35 years in prison and be on the hook for $750,000 in fines.

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