As Massachusetts Senators wind down ‘debate’ on a Bay State casino gaming bill which includes a special interest preference for the Mashpee Wampanoag, ongoing claims of financial improprieties by tribal leadership are growing. The Mashpee band of the Wampanoag tribe, led by council chairman Cedric Cromwell, are under fire now for being in default on mortgage payments and failing to repay loans to early investors who backed their lobbying and legal costs for gaining required federal recognition as a tribe – a first step towards establishing an Indian reservation land-in-trust casino complex.
According to a new report in the Cape Cod Times, the Mashpee band owes real estate developer Herb Strather of Detroit more than $25 million. The report also notes that the tribe is in default on the mortgage for a farm purchased for the tribe by Strather. Strather is just one of several questionable “investors” in the Mashpee tribe scheme to open an Indian gaming resort complex in Massachusetts. The Mashpee had also engaged the same South African investors behind the Mohegan tribe – Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman. Both Strather and Kerzner have past charges of bribery and other claims. How much is owed to Kerzner and Wolman is unknown as the tribal council has refused to open their financial books to members. Under Cromwell, the tribe severed its relationship with Strather, Kerzner and Wolman in 2009 when the Mashpee Wampanoag became partners with another foreign gaming syndicate. The tribe owes its current backers, the Genting Group of Malaysia, in excess of $25 million. Genting’s alleged ties to organized crime and terrorist groups make for a trifecta of corruption ties among Mashpee backers. Foreign backed investors of Indian gaming and corruption are common according to a Time Magazine report exposing the problems with unregulated, tax-exempt Indian casinos including those of the Wampanoag investors. Conservative estimates of tribal debts are in excess of $50,000,000 – with no accounting to the tribe of how that money was spent or repayment plans. Cromwell apparently defaults, literally, to claims of tribal sovereignty anytime he’s questioned about this.
This latest news comes on the heels of reports that tribal elders seeking to recall Cromwell are calling on the Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate the current council leadership for violating the tribe’s charter, financial improprieties and failing to make public the finances behind their casino related dealings. Tribe members claim that Cromwell recently filed paperwork to change the tribe’s charter in such a manner that would essentially privatize the group’s casino interests and turn over the ownership to him and other council members. Cromwell and other council members Aaron Tobey, Mark Harding, and Maria Stone have already established a for-profit real estate development arm called “First Light Corporation” using tribal resources to make real estate purchases associated with their casino endeavors. Cromwell has reportedly used tribal credit cards to bill thousands of dollars for limousines, meals, travel and lobbying related expenses without any accounting or disclosure to the tribe or state regulators.
What tribe members do know is that Cromwell came to his position, backed by the Genting Group of Malaysia, under clouded allegations of election improprieties. Cromwell’s tribal membership, which he gained only in 2006, qualifications have been questioned. Cromwell had personally defaulted on his home mortgage and had liens for unpaid utilities prior to taking his new position. Yet, today he apparently has a new unencumbered mansion on Cape Cod, membership records are locked away from prying eyes and his personal financial problems are no longer making newspaper headlines.
Massachusetts elected officials, led by Senator Therese Murray and Governor Deval Patrick, have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the foreign money backed lobbyists behind the Wampanoag scheme. They are paying back those lobbyists, like Bill Delahunt, with a special set-aside that ensures the Mashpee Wampanoag and no other tribe will gain exclusive and tax-free gaming rights to 1/3 of the state. That this political scandal continues unchecked is beyond imagination. That the Commonwealth’s financial and job needs are being put behind the interests of a small special interest group with such a long history of corruption and improprieties is immoral and criminal.