Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Keeps Cedric Cromwell, as Grand Jury Subpoenas Fly

Posted on: August 31, 2020, 09:35h. 

Last updated on: August 31, 2020, 02:13h.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council voted Friday night during an emergency meeting to retain Chairman Cedric Cromwell, as the Native American group remains engulfed in scandal.

Mashpee Wampanoag Massachusetts casino
Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell, seen here in November of 2018 with Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, will continue leading the Massachusetts tribe for the foreseeable future. (Image: USA TODAY)

The Massachusetts tribe is the subject of a federal grand jury probe regarding its recent elections and finances. The latter has spiraled out of control since Cromwell’s council began an effort in 2014 to build an integrated resort casino in Taunton. The chairman retained his position after the council voted 5-3 in support of keeping him in the tribal office.

For more than five years, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has been trying to construct a $1 billion casino resort called “First Light.” The project was being developed in conjunction with, and financed by, Malaysian casino giant Genting Group.

The resort, however, has been continually delayed by legal challenges regarding whether the US Department of the Interior should place 321 acres of land the tribe acquired into federal trust.

Investigation Ongoing

The DOI agreed to take the Mashpee land into trust in 2015. The property includes 170 acres in the town of Mashpee, which the tribe plans to use as its sovereign homeland, and 151 acres in Taunton, which is designated for the casino complex.

During the Trump administration, the DOI reversed its 2015 decision and rendered the land non-sovereign, removing it from the federal registrar. But in June of this year, a federal judge in DC ruled in favor of the tribe, saying the Interior Department was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law” in its 2018 reversal.

The judge mandated that the DOI reevaluate the land matter. In the meantime, a grand jury continues to review whether the tribe has committed a criminal act.

Subpoenas have been issued for the tribe to turn over all documents related to its 2013 and 2017 council elections, its finances, the number of active tribal members, and its contract documents relating to the casino, including its arrangement with Genting and architect Robin Green Beretta Corp.

“In the United States, a grand jury consists of 16 to 23 people,” the Cornell Law School website explains. “Criminal prosecutors present the case to the grand jury. The prosecutors attempt to establish probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been committed. The grand jury assesses whether there is adequate basis for bringing a criminal charge against a suspect.”

$500M Loss

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe argues the DOI’s reversal has resulted in a loss of approximately half of a billion dollars for the tribe. The money predominantly came from Genting, which is seeking to recover the funds.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe claims to have 2,600 members. On the Mashpee website, the tribe remains committed to First Light.

The project calls for a casino floor with 3,000 slot machines, 150 table games, and 40 poker tables. The hotel would come with 600 rooms and feature an indoor and outdoor water park, numerous restaurants, and convention space.