Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Faces Power Struggle After Failed Casino Bid Leaves It $500 Million in the Red

Posted on: April 24, 2019, 05:56h. 

Last updated on: April 24, 2019, 06:10h.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts has been rocked by financial crisis and political unrest since its bid to build a $1 billion Genting-funded casino in Taunton hit the skids.

Mashpee Wampanoag tribal leader Cedric Cromwell has been accused of financial malfeasance over the First Light casino project by members of the tribal council who want him removed from power. (Image: Alter-Native Media.)

Now, The Cape Cod Times reports a coup is afoot to oust tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell and his vice chairwoman, Jessie “Little Doe” Baird, after the torpedoed casino project left the tribe over $500 million in debt to Genting, a Malaysia-based casino operator.

On Wednesday, two petitions were filed with the Mashpee’s election committee accusing its two leaders of “malfeasance” and “wrongful acts.”

No Casino, No Jobs, Just Debt

The petitions note the tribe has paid Cromwell more than $1 million during his ten-year tenure, which has left the tribe debt-ridden with no reservation, no casino, and no jobs – just a mortgaged property in Taunton where a gleaming casino resort that was to be named “First Light” could have stood.

Tribal members are hurt and embarrassed by what the Tribal Council has or hasn’t done and they know it’s time for a change,” councilmember Aaron Tobey Jr told The Times.

Genting was providing funding to the tribe, believing the First Light would come to fruition. t=That included financing legal battles against a group of Taunton residents who asserted that the Department of Interior had erred in taking land into trust for the tribe in 2015.

In 2016, the tribe lost the case when a judge agreed that the DOI had ignored a 2009 Supreme Court ruling known as the Calcieri Decision, which held in doubt the federal government’s ability grant land for tribes that were recognized after Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

Last year, the DOI agreed with the court ruling, reversing the 2015 decision and denying the tribe not only the casino but also its sovereign reservation.

Secrecy Around Casino Payments

The Times reported recently that, as of December 31, the tribe had just $83,670 in its general fund, having begun 2018 with $6.3 million. Some $5.4 million of this had been provided by Genting, which has now cut financial support.

An appeal launched by the Mashpee in the wake of the 2016 federal court ruling is presently dormant.

The two leaders are also accused attempting to expel council members who have criticized Cromwell’s handing of finances and his alleged secrecy around casino-related expenditure. In January, Cromwell was temporarily stripped of his financial responsibilities towards the tribe’s affairs after it emerged during his divorce proceedings that he owed $36,901 in unpaid federal taxes.

A bill has been introduced to Congress that would restore the tribe’s land and, by extension, reignite the First Light project. It has a slim chance of being enacted but it remains the tribe’s only hope.