Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mashpee Wampanoag Taunton Casino: Trust but verify, if you can

On March 23, 2012 the City of Taunton received a $340,000 check from Cedric Cromwell and the Mashpee Wampanoag Indians to cover the costs of the upcoming special election ($40,000), consultants and legal counsel for negotiating with the tribe ($300,000). Since it didn't bounce, this check seals the deal on an agreement entered into by the City and the Mashpee-based Tribe to move forward with turning over control, including local jurisdiction, for lands in Taunton for an Indian casino resort complex.    

Just don’t be surprised if that $300,000 payment is not nearly enough to cover the legal expenses the town will face in dealing with the Cromwell led-Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and his Malaysian-backed reservationcasino resort syndicate.  Taunton need not look far when doing diligence on the Mashpee Wampanoag and Cedric Cromwell to anticipate the likelihood of success in this endeavor.

The Tribe itself commissioned an assessment of the Mashpee Wampanoag from Harvard University on their ability to govern themselves, achieve progress against stated goals and successfully engage effectively with other entities.  This report, delivered to Tribal Council Chair Cedric Cromwell in 2011 but never shared with the tribe, found that a lack of transparency, unclear goals, a lack of oversight against initiatives “limited the degree of legitimacy conferred upon current activities” of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal government.  Yikes.  Who can blame Cedric for trying to keep those findings secret while he was negotiating a gaming compact with such “entities” as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and local governments in: Middleboro, Mashpee, Raynham, Fall River and now Taunton…

And what do we hear from all those other localities which have past dealings with this “limited legitimacy” branded Wampanoag group?  There are many important lessons from other Massachusetts towns dealing with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe which should be considered by Mayor Tom Hoye and other Taunton officials.   

The Town of Middleboro remembers and is currently in court and seeking help from the Governor and other elected officials to be made whole on reneged agreements with the Mashpee tribal council headed by Cedric Cromwell.  Middleboro trusted the Mashpee Wampanoag only to find out months after the tribe was notified that their application for land in trust for that community had actually been thrown outby the Department of the Interior.   How much are Middleboro’s legal bills now and what costs did the Tribe saddle the town with as a result of their less-than-transparent dealings?  Ask Middleboro selectmen Ben Quelle if Taunton should trust the tribe, Quelle told Gatehouse News, “They speak with forked tongues and their signature means nothing. They cannot be and should not be negotiating with other towns…

Even the tribe’s own hometown of Mashpee has had to enlist and pay lawyers to prevent this reservation casino-bent gang from violating agreements with them.  The Town of Mashpee had to have their lawyers write to the U.S. Bureau for Indian Affairs (BIA) on January 25, 2008  to oppose the Tribe’s application for land in trust claiming the Tribe misrepresented and made false claims about agreements with the town in their federal filings.  The town wrote:

Contrary to the Tribe’s assertions in its application, the Town has not yet agreed to transfer to the Tribe any of the Town’s right, title, or interest in and to any of these parcels….” Adding, “The relationship between the Tribe and the Town with respect to land and development has been controversial… while many residents of the Town have expressed concerns to Town officials regarding the Tribe’s proposed and potential future acquisitions of trust land and how the Tribe’s proposed development may affect the region…”

The Mashpee lawyers added, “Although the Tribe has stated that it does not intend to develop any of the Mashpee lands for gaming purposes, it has nonetheless requested on page 2 of the trust land request a determination by the Secretary that all the lands identified in the application constitute the initial reservation of a newly-recognized tribe on which gaming may be conducted… The Tribe’s application indicates that the Town will transfer its title to certain parcels of land…   This is an inaccurate and presumptive assertion by the Tribe…” 

These are kind legal words which suggest the tribe lied on its submissions to the federal government.

Cedric Cromwell and his council cohorts (see image) don't even trust their own tribe members. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribal council recently established a Tribal Gaming Ordinance which appoints Cromwell and his council treasurer Mark Harding in charge of all gaming issues and allows them to negotiate contracts in secret.  Not even members of the tribe are allowed to attend meetings or view documents where Cromwell is putting them into debt to pursue his casino interests.  Cromwell has even created a for-profit real estate holding company, separate from the tribe, called "Project First Light, Inc", which he controls with Harding and two other council members.  First Light is the company being used to make the land deals in Taunton - why the tribe needs a separate for-profit entity through which borrowed tribal funds are laundered with no accounting to members has raised significant concerns among his own people.

If the Mashpee Wampanoag cannot be trusted in their own town or by their own tribe members, and have left a trail of broken promises with other neighboring communities how do we think Taunton will fare some 50 miles away?   No resident of Taunton, regardless of their ancestry, can even qualify to be a Mashpee Wampanoag member – so no ‘neighbors’ with skin in the game to complain to if things go badly.  

Trust but verify.  And if you really cannot verify, all we can go on is past behavior.   


  1. Really liked the article truthful and informative.But the woman in the picture is not Marie TA TA Stone but her sister Alice Lopez.Would say more about Alice but she is dead and can't defend herself.

  2. Thanks Joan and apologies to the Lopez family. The picture has been updated and corrected.

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