The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested the former chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Friday last week, November 13, for his alleged role in a bribery scheme involving plans to build a resort and casino in Taunton.
Prosecutors unveiled a string of charges against the chairman, Cedric Cromwell, 55, of Attleboro, including one count of conspiring to commit bribery, one count of conspiring to commit extortion, two counts of accepting or paying bribes as an agent of an Indian tribal government and four counts of extortion under color of official right.
The indictment alleges Mr. Cromwell conspired with David DeQuattro, 54, of Warwick, Rhode Island, who owns Robinson Green Beretta Corporation, an architecture firm the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Gaming Authority contracted with for casino plans. Mr. Cromwell leads the gaming authority.
“Instead of working honestly on behalf of the Mashpee Wampanoags as their duly elected representative, Cedric Cromwell is accused of using his position as chairman of the tribe to enrich himself by extorting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes and engaging in a conspiracy with David DeQuattro to commit bribery,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, in a press release.
Mr. DeQuattro has been charged with two counts of accepting or paying bribes to an agent of an Indian tribal government and one count of conspiring to commit bribery.
Both Mr. DeQuattro and Mr. Cromwell pleaded not guilty to all charges via videoconference in federal court in Boston on Friday. Both were released on a $25,000 unsecured bond.
A unanimous vote by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council removed Mr. Cromwell from his position as chairman just hours after his arrest. Mr. Cromwell could not be reached for comment.
Vice-Chairwoman Jessie (Little Doe) Baird will serve as acting chairwoman of the tribal council.
“We take the charges brought against Cedric Cromwell very seriously,” Ms. Baird said in a statement. “The tribe’s focus remains on ensuring that our land remains in trust and supporting our tribal sovereignty.”
She said the tribe will continue to cooperate with the government.
The indictment alleges that between approximately July 26, 2014, and May 18, 2017, Mr. DeQuattro, through his architecture firm, provided Mr. Cromwell with payments and in-kind benefits valued at $57,549. The architecture firm, in exchange, was paid about $4,966,287 under its contract with the tribe’s gaming authority, the indictment alleges.
Mr. DeQuattro wrote $44,000 in personal checks to CM International Consulting LLC, an entity owned by a friend of Mr. Cromwell’s, the indictment alleges. That friend, at the direction of Mr. Cromwell, then deposited the checks and used the funds to buy treasurer’s checks payable either to Mr. Cromwell or One Nation Development, a shell entity Mr. Cromwell had incorporated, the indictment alleges.
The friend was not named.
Mr. DeQuattro also allegedly wrote a $10,000 personal check directly to One Nation Development.
The indictment alleges Mr. Cromwell spent all the money on personal expenses, including payments to his mistress, and also received in-kind benefits in the form of a used Bowflex Revolution home gym that Mr. DeQuattro and the architecture company’s president bought and had delivered to Mr. Cromwell’s home.
The president of the architecture firm, who was not named, authorized and signed company checks to reimburse Mr. DeQuattro for his payments to Mr. Cromwell, falsely characterizing the reimbursements as payroll expenses, the indictment alleges.
The president of the architecture company and Mr. DeQuattro also allegedly agreed to pay for Mr. Cromwell to stay at a Boston hotel after Mr. Cromwell asked Mr. DeQuattro in a text to “get me a nice hotel room at the Four Seasons or a suite at the Seaport Hotel” for his birthday weekend and added “I am going to have a special guest with me.”
The charge of paying a bribe to an agent of an Indian tribal government or being an agent of an Indian tribal government who accepts a bribe is a federal offense punishable with up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.
Conspiring to commit bribery carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.
The charges of extortion under color of official right and conspiring to commit extortion each provide for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of unsupervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.
“The charges allege that Mr. Cromwell violated the trust he owed the Mashpee Wampano[a]g Tribe by committing extortion, accepting bribes and otherwise abusing his position,” said US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling in a press release. “Many American Indians face a host of difficult financial and social issues. They require—and deserve—real leadership. But it appears that Cromwell’s priority was not to serve his people, but to line his own pockets. We will continue to aggressively investigate public corruption, including by those who purport to serve our American Indian tribes.”
Assistant US Attorney Christine Wichers of Mr. Lelling’s Public Corruption and Special Prosecutions Unit is prosecuting the case.
Mr. Cromwell was first elected chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council in 2009. He was reelected in 2013 and 2017.
Tribal Council Member Brian Weeden said that, even before the indictment, “the writing was on the wall” for Mr. Cromwell.
“I think the tribal council was given information that they should have acted on earlier,” Mr. Weeden said. “Membership has been asking for his removal for well over a year now.”
He noted that a vote by tribal council in August and a vote on November 9 both failed to remove Mr. Cromwell as chairman. Mr. Weeden said only he and two other tribal council members voted for Mr. Cromwell’s removal before the indictment.
A recall election that would have allowed tribal voters to weigh in on whether to remove Mr. Cromwell from his post was canceled in September of last year, three days before the vote was scheduled to take place.
“I think that it is important for everyone to know that nothing has really changed and we’re still trying to do what we can to protect the tribe and the land in trust,” Mr. Weeden said. “The show goes on with or without [Mr. Cromwell].”
With tribal council elections coming up in February, Mr. Weeden said tribal members should pay attention to the candidates running and consider reforms to the tribe’s constitution, which he described as “a disservice to our membership.”
“I think it’s important to recognize and realize that the constitution takes away the power of the people and gives all the power to the chairman,” Mr. Weeden said. “In this upcoming election, the membership should pay attention and look for the candidate that has the best interest of the tribe and all those issues at heart.”