Saturday, May 21, 2022

Former Mass. tribal leader convicted in casino bribery case

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A former leader of a Massachusetts Native American tribe was convicted Thursday of bribery and extortion charges related to the tribe’s long-planned casino project, federal prosecutors said.

But Cedric Cromwell, former leader of the Mashpee Wampanoag, was cleared by the federal jury in Boston of some charges, including one count of extortion and a count of bribery conspiracy, prosecutors said.

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David DeQuattro, Cromwell’s co-defendant and the owner of an architecture firm in Providence, Rhode Island, was also similarly convicted of bribery but cleared of other charges, according to the office of Rachael Rollins, U.S. attorney for Massachusetts.

The two will be sentenced in September.

Cromwell’s lawyer didn’t respond to emails seeking comment, but DeQuattro’s lawyer, Martin Weinberg, said he’ll be seeking a “complete acquittal” for his client.

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Mashpee Wampanoag chair Brian Weeden said the case represents an “unfortunate chapter” for the roughly 3,000-member tribe.

Cromwell’s predecessor as tribal chairman, Glenn Marshall, was also sentenced to federal prison in 2009 after pleading guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws, embezzling tribal funds and other fraud charges while working with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff as the tribe successfully pushed for federal recognition in 2007.

Weeden, who has said tribal leaders intend to reassess their long, tortuous pursuit of a casino, hopes to the put the case in its rearview and “focus on healing our nation.”

“Tribal members are disappointed in Cedric Cromwell,” Weeden said in a statement. “We place a tremendous amount of trust in our elected officials. Cedric abused that trust.”

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The 10-day trial had been delayed for months by the coronavirus pandemic.

Federal prosecutors argued that Cromwell accepted $10,000, a home gym system and a weekend stay at an upscale Boston hotel from DeQuattro in exchange for nearly $5 million in casino project contracts between 2015 and 2017.

“The quid pro quo scheme that he orchestrated with David DeQuattro was an affront to the Tribe that elected him to serve their best interests,” Joseph Bonavolonta, head of the FBI’s Boston office, said in a statement.

Cromwell, who was removed as chair after his indictment in 2020, has denied seeking or accepting bribes. DeQuattro has maintained he was simply donating to Cromwell’s political campaign.

Cromwell still also faces charges of filing false tax returns for not reporting about $176,000 in income to the IRS.

The tribe’s casino plan has faced years of legal setbacks but got a boost in December when President Joe Biden’s administration affirmed the tribe’s sovereign reservation.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which traces its ancestry to the Indigenous people the Pilgrims encountered four centuries ago, broke ground in 2016 on a $1 billion resort casino in a former industrial park in Taunton, a city south of Boston.

Dubbed First Light, the resort was to include a hotel and shopping, dining and entertainment options, including a water park.

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