Cedric Cromwell has been the long-time chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts. He has been charged, along with David DeQuattro, in a bribery scheme in relation to the Tribe’s casino development plans. The charge accuses the two of colluding with each other, Cromwell as chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe and DeQuattro as owner of an architecture and design firm, to extort tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for construction contracts.
Both men have plead not guilty to the bribery charges via a video conference held last week. Cromwell has also plead not guilty to the extortion charges. They were both released by a Boston federal court judge on a $25,000 unsecured bond until they appear for their next court date.
Prosecutors allege that the two had been working together since at least 2014. Between 2014 and 2017, DeQuattro made payments to Cromwell and provided other benefits totaling roughly $60,000. In return, Cromwell had awarded construction contracts to DeQuattro’s architecture firm worth nearly $5 million. The money is alleged to have been used by Cromwell personally and was accompanied by lavish gifts such as a home gym system and hotel reservations.
United States Attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, said, “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.” Lelling’s office is currently prosecuting the case. According to Cromwell’s lawyer, Timothy Flaherty, he denies any such allegations and added that his client “is a man of principle, a man of faith, and he is a transformational leader.”
The Wampanoag Tribe’s council voted in an emergency meeting on Friday. They voted unanimously to remove Cromwell as the Tribe’s chairman. “We take the charges brought against Cedric Cromwell very seriously. The Tribe’s focus remains on ensuring that our land remains in trust and supporting our tribal sovereignty,” said Jessie Baird, Vice chair for the Tribe’s council.
The Wampanoag Tribe, located on Cape Cod, traces its lineage back to the Native Americans who shared their fall harvest with the Pilgrims in 1621. In 2007, the Tribe gained federal recognition and was awarded over 300 acres placed into federal trust. This land was declared as a sovereign reservation in 2016 under President Barrack Obama’s administration. The Tribe then moved immediately to break ground on a casino development project in Taunton, Massachusetts, on Boston’s south shore. The Tribe partnered with Genting Group, a casino developer based out of Malaysia to construct the $1 billion First Light Casino.
The project was almost immediately delayed by significant political and legal challenges. Namely, a challenge by President Donald Trump’s administration to take back land designated under the Obama administration. In early 2020, the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs stated that it intended to rescind the 300 acre tribal reservation and also remove the land under federal trust. In June of this year, a federal judge was able to halt that decision. The judge ordered that the Department of the Interior review the Bureau’s plan and issue any new findings. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has appealed the current ruling.
The Trump administration also fought legislation passed in the House of Representatives, currently led by the Democrats, that sought to protect the Tribe’s reservation. The President has been dismissive of the effort, calling it a “special interest casino bill.” Both the Wampanoag Tribe and others across the country have watched the administrations actions with interest and concern. Many have complained that such decisions set a dangerous precedent and a possible legal means of taking away a tribe’s federally protected lands.