Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Treasurers Subpoenaed by Federal Grand Jury

Posted on: September 5, 2019, 11:50h. 

Last updated on: September 16, 2019, 01:26h.

The current and former chief financial officers of Massachusetts’ Mashpee Wampanoag tribe have been subpoenaed for reasons that are currently unclear, The Cape Cod Times reports.

Current Mashpee treasurer Gordon Harris (left) and his predecessor Robert Hendricks have both been issued subpoenas, adding to the political unrest within the tribe. Council member Aaron Tobey Jr. (right) believes there could be more court orders to come. (Image: Mashpee Wampanoag Government)

One source told The Times that the court orders for Treasurer Gordon Harris and his predecessor, Robert Hendricks, were connected to a federal grand jury investigation, which the US Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts was unable to confirm or deny when contacted by the newspaper.

The subpoenas will add to the sense of political turmoil that has engulfed the tribe since the Department of the Interior reversed an Obama-era decision to take land into trust for the Mashpee reservation in September 2018.

The dramatic reversal sunk the tribe’s plans for a $1 billion casino, which would have been built in partnership with Genting. The Malaysian casino giant pulled the funding that was propping up Mashpee operations, leaving the tribe in financial distress and $500 million in debt.

Power Struggle

A faction within the tribe has attempted to remove current Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell, his right-hand woman Jessie “Little Doe” Baird, as well as Harris.

Petitions that circulated earlier this year received 120 certified signatures approving Harris’ removal and 104 to remove Cromwell, forcing an election which will be held on Sept. 15. A petition to remove Baird fell short of the 100 signatures required.

In June, an anonymous robocall began circulating, alleging that $250 million was missing from the Mashpee tribal fund.

“To date, we as tribal members, not know how this money is spent,” claimed the call. “Only Chairman Cromwell and Treasurer Gordon Harris have knowledge and access to how our $250 million has been spent.

“We are solely relying on federal grant dollars … this means our tribal elders, youth and at-risk members are suffering while (Tribal Council) continues to use grant funding for their salaries,” it stated.

Trump Gets Involved

Last January, Cromwell was temporarily stripped of his financial responsibilities towards the tribe because he owed $36,901 in unpaid federal taxes, according to divorce proceedings. He has been paid more than $1 million since he took office in 2009, according to the petition that called for his removal.

Meanwhile, a bill has been introduced in Congress that would restore the Mashpee’s reservation and reignite the casino project. It was passed by the House in June, but its slim chance of success in the Senate deteriorated after it caught the eye of President Donald Trump.

Trump claimed via Twitter it was a “special interest casino bill” that was “unfair and doesn’t treat Native Americans equally.”

Subpoenas Confirmed by Tribe

The Harris and Hendricks subpoenas were confirmed at a recent meeting of the Tribal Council, the minutes of which have been seen by The Times.

The Council referred to the court orders without going into any detail about the case and voted to hire legal counsel for the two men.

According to the minutes, when asked if he knew whether anyone else in the tribal government, past or present, had been issued a court order, council member Aaron Tobey Jr, said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were.”