Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Financial Records Subpoenaed by Federal Grand Jury

Posted on: July 15, 2020, 03:44h. 

Last updated on: July 16, 2020, 08:05h.

A federal grand jury has ordered the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts to hand over all documents and records related to its finances, MassLive reports.

Mashpee Asked For Records
Mashpee Wampanoag tribal members protest the Department of the Interior’s decision to rescind their reservation in 2018. (Image: Cape Cod Times)

For years, the tribe — which traces its ancestry to the Native Americans who broke bread with the Pilgrims in 1621 — has been engaged in a legal battle over its sovereign status. This includes its right to build a $1 billion casino resort in Taunton, 50 miles from its base in Cape Cod.

Last September, the tribe’s current and former chief financial officers, Gordon Harris and his predecessor, Robert Hendricks, were also subpoenaed by a federal grand jury for reasons that are still unclear.

Grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret. But it is not the jurors’ role to determine guilt or innocence — just whether there is probable cause to believe a person or persons committed a crime after hearing evidence presented by a federal prosecutor.

Tribal Tensions

But there have been concerns about the tribes’ financial situation and a perceived lack of transparency from the Tribal Council since 2018 when the Department of the Interior (DOI) reversed an Obama-era decision to take land into trust to create a Mashpee reservation.

Not only did this dramatic u-turn imperil the tribes’ sovereign status, but it also sunk its plans for a Taunton casino. The Mashpee’s partner on the project, Malaysian casino giant Genting, pulled its money, which also happened to be buttressing the tribal fund. The tribe owes Genting around $500 million.

Last year, a faction within the tribe called for the removal of Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell and his right-hand woman, Jessie “Little Doe” Baird, along with Treasurer Harris. At the time, an anonymous robocall designed to whip up support for their ousting alleged that $250 million was missing from the Mashpee tribal fund.

‘Contrary to Law’

Things were at their grimmest for the Mashpee in March of this year, when the DOI informed the tribe its reservation would be disestablished. This came a month after the tribe lost a crucial appeal of a 2015 District Court judgment that the Obama administration had erred by placing land into trust for the tribe.

But in June, the Mashpee were thrown a lifeline. A federal judge ruled in a separate case that DOI’s actions were “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.”

Judge Paul Friedman of the US District Court for the District of Columbia batted the issue back to the DOI, with a strong recommendation that it reconsider its position.