With Casino Dream in Tatters, Tribal Council Votes No Confidence in Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman

Posted on: January 26, 2019, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: January 25, 2019, 09:19h.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribal council has delivered a unanimous vote of no confidence in tribal chairman, Cedric Cromwell. Cromwell has also been stripped him of his financial responsibilities in the tribe’s affairs and to its gaming authority.

Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell has lost the faith of the tribal council. Its $1 billion casino project now looks to be a hopeless case and the tribe appears to be under severe economic stress. (Image: Falmouth Enterprise)

The motion comes as the tribe’s long-cherished ambition of building a casino in Taunton, Massachusetts appears to be in disarray and — despite receiving loans of $440 million from the project’s financial backer, Malaysian casino giant Genting — the tribe appears to be running out of money.

Documents obtained by The Cape Cod Times show the Mashpee has just $83,670 in its general fund, as of December 31, 2018, having started the year with over $6.3 million. Some $5.4 million of that came from loans issued by Genting, the documents show. Cromwell said the tribe’s annual operating budget was about $12 million.

Reversal of Fortune

Things were looking good for Cromwell and the tribe back in 2015, when the US Department of Interior took the plot of land in Taunton into trust for the tribe and later declared it the tribe’s sovereign reservation. With backing from Genting secured, the Mashpee broke ground on the planned $1 billion casino the following year.

But a group of disgruntled local homeowners, bankrolled by rival casino developer Neil Bluhm, challenged the project, arguing successfully that the DOI should not have taken the land into trust for the Mashpee.

A 2009 Supreme Court ruling known as the Carcieri Decision held in doubt the federal government’s powers to grant land in trust for tribes recognized after Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The tribe were only officially recognized in 2007.

In September last year, the DOI reversed the decision.

Act of Congress Only Hope

It’s unclear whether Genting will pursue the tribe for the $440 debt. Tribal officials have said they are only responsible for the debt if the casino is built. In September, the Malaysian company said it was “working closely with the tribe to review all options available for the Group’s investment in the promissory notes as well as its recoverability.”

Last month, Genting said it had included the $440 million as an impairment charge, which plunged its Q3            accounts into the red.

The Mashpee’s only hope is a federal bill sponsored by Massachusetts democrats that seeks to have the tribe’s reservation — and therefore its right to build the casino — reaffirmed as an act of Congress, but the bill is likely to face opposition not just from a Republican-controlled Congress but also Democrats from neighboring Rhode Island who are anxious to protect their own casino industry from competition.

It’s been a bad few weeks for Cromwell. Court filings related to his ongoing divorce proceedings showed that he and his soon-to-be ex-wife owe $36,901 in unpaid federal taxes. Cheryl Cromwell’s attorneys have accused the tribal chairman of financial mismanagement and hiding money.