Mashpee Gaming Authority Subpoenaed by Federal Grand Jury Over $1 Billion Massachusetts Casino Proposal

Posted on: October 1, 2020, 02:29h. 

Last updated on: October 2, 2020, 07:46h.

Federal authorities have requested the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Gaming Authority turn over to federal grand jury documents related to the tribe’s proposed $1 billion casino in Taunton, Mass.

Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell survived a motion to remove him from power in late August. (Image: Jessica Rinaldi/Boston Globe)

Investigators have demanded all records and communications related to contracts between the tribe and its casino architect, Robinson Green Beretta Corp, according to MassLive, which broke the story.

This is the latest of several subpoenas that are part of an ongoing investigation into the tribe’s finances, the specific nature of which is unknown.

Grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret while jurors decide whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed after hearing evidence presented by a federal prosecutor.

No Transparency

Concerns over tribal finances have grown since Malaysian casino giant Genting pulled its financial support in 2019. That followed the US Interior Department’s reversal of an Obama-era decision to take land into trust to create a Mashpee reservation. The reversal stripped the tribe of its sovereignty and torpedoed its ambitions for a casino and economic stability.

Meanwhile, some tribal members have expressed dismay at the tribal leadership’s perceived lack of transparency and accountability, and there have been accusations of missing funds.

Last September, the tribe’s current and former chief financial officers were subpoenaed by the grand jury for reasons that are still unclear. In July, the tribe was ordered to hand over all documents and records related to its finances. A month later, the jury sought records related to the election of Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell.  

This last request triggered a motion to remove Cromwell from power, which he survived when three council members voted in favor and five against.

Fresh Hope for Mashpee?

According to MassLive, the gaming authority is even less transparent than the tribal council. Little is known about how it functions and it is currently $500 million in debt to Genting. However, the casino operator has indicated that it may be prepared to write this off.

Former vice-chair of the tribal council David Pocknett told MassLive that the tribal membership hasn’t voted on an operating budget since 2018, in violation of the tribe’s constitution. Membership has never had a vote on a gaming authority budget, he added.

Things have looked bleak for the Mashpee, especially in late March, when the DOI ordered its reservation to be disestablished. But the tribe received fresh hope in early June when a federal judge in Washington DC ruled that the DOI decision had been “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.”

The case was referred back to the federal agency for reconsideration.