The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and its beleaguered Taunton casino were dealt another blow on Friday when tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell and David DeQuattro, a R.I. architect with nearly $5 million in contracts connected to the tribe, were arrested by FBI agents on bribery and other charges.
Cromwell, 55, of Attleboro, and DeQuattro, 54, of Warwick, R.I., each face two counts of accepting or paying bribes as an agent or to an agent of an Indian tribal government and one count of conspiring to commit bribery, according to US Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office and court records. Cromwell was also indicted on five extortion-related charges, according to Lelling’s office and federal court records.
Both pleaded not guilty to bribery charges during a videoconference Friday, the Associated Press reported. Cromwell also pleaded not guilty to extortion charges. A Boston federal court judge released them on $25,000 in unsecured bond until their next court date in December.
Prosecutors allege that through his role as a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Gaming Authority, Cromwell contracted with DeQuattro’s architecture and design company, RGB Architects or Robinson Green Beretta Corp., in connection with the tribe’s plans to build a $1 billion casino on reservation land in Taunton.
Friday’s arrests are an uncomfortable echo of the tribe’s past troubles. A decade ago, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe was landless, its leadership struggling with corruption scandals and debt. The legalization of casino gambling in Massachusetts in 2011 offered the tribe the opportunity for a place in the lucrative gaming industry, as well as a way to claim ancestral land.
The First Light Resort and Casino project was approved in 2016, and the tribe — along with Genting Group, a major Malaysia-based casino developer — quickly broke ground, in spite of a lawsuit filed by Taunton residents.
Less than a year later, a federal judge ruled that the tribe’s sovereign reservation was invalid, and construction ground to a halt. Since then, the tribe has been battling for recognition in and out of court. By 2019, the tribe’s 321 acres of reservation land in Mashpee and Taunton were at risk, half the tribal workforce had been laid off, and the casino project — the tribe’s hope for financial stability and national recognition — had generated millions of dollars of debt.
In March, the tribe was told it would lose its reservation status.
“We will not rest until we are treated equally with other federally recognized tribes and the status of our reservation is confirmed,” Cromwell wrote on the tribe’s website at the time.
In a statement Friday, Lelling denounced Cromwell, saying he had abused his leadership position instead of fighting for his tribe’s sovereignty.
“The charges allege that Mr. Cromwell violated the trust he owed the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe by committing extortion, accepting bribes, and otherwise abusing his position,” Lelling said in a statement. “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.”
According to the indictment, Cromwell first demanded a $10,000 cash payment in July 2014, which DeQuattro allegedly paid to a company controlled by a friend of Cromwell’s. Cromwell then put the money into an account he shared with his wife and spent some on personal expenses and shifted some amounts to a shell corporation he created called One Nation Development, authorities allege.
DeQuattro, an architect and shareholder of RGB Architects, was reimbursed by the president of his company, who recorded it as payroll expenses on the company’s books, authorities allege. The name of the president was not disclosed in the 23-page indictment made public Friday.
Ultimately, DeQuattro allegedly paid $44,000 to the Cromwell-controlled companies, authorities allege. “Cromwell spent all of the money on personal expenses, including payments to his mistress,” Lelling said in a statement.
According to the indictment, Cromwell asked for — and received — non-cash payments from DeQuattro, including an exercise machine in August 2016. The RGB president bought a used Bowflex Revolution machine for $1,700 and had it delivered to Cromwell’s home on Aug. 5.
That same day, the Wampanoag Gaming Authority — with Cromwell’s signature on the check — paid the R.I. company $122,772 based on submitted invoices, according to the indictment.
On May 15, 2017, Cromwell requested from DeQuattro a free birthday weekend with a “special guest” at an expensive Boston hotel. DeQuattro’s employer allegedly complied. Authorities said that shortly after Cromwell received the alleged bribe from DeQuattro, the company in turn received a check worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to the Associated Press, the Mashpee tribe said in a statement it is “deeply concerned” about the charges against Cromwell, who has been the prominent face of the approximately 3,000-member tribe since becoming its chairman in 2009. The tribe’s council was expected to hold an emergency meeting Friday.
DeQuattro has donated nearly $11,000 to a variety of top elected leaders in Rhode Island over the years, according to state Board of Elections records.
RGB Architects has been involved in several major public building projects, including a $13 million renovation of the attorney general’s office building on South Main Street in Providence, North Providence’s new $28 million public safety complex, the Warwick Intermodal Connector at T.F. Green Airport, and plans for a new high school in South Kingstown.
No content was publicly accessible on the RGB Architects website on Thursday afternoon. A message said the site was “undergoing scheduled maintenance.”
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @FitzProv. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com. John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @JREbosglobe.