The bribery and extortion trial of Cedric Cromwell, the former chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts, kicked off in Boston this week.
Cromwell was indicted in January 2021 for extorting almost $60,000 from Providence, R.I.-based RGB Architects from 2014 to 2017. The firm was the project manager for the proposed $1 billion First Light casino project in Taunton, Mass.
The contract was worth $5 million to RGB, but it could be terminated for cause with one week’s notice or for convenience with a month’s notice.
Prosecutors allege this gave Cromwell leverage over RGB, allowing him to solicit bribes from the architect firm in exchange for “favorable action or inaction” on the contract. Cromwell was also president of the tribe’s gaming authority at the time.
Also on trial is RGB owner David DeQuattro, who’s charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and two counts of bribery.
His lawyer, Martin Weinberg, claims his client simply donated to Cromwell’s political campaign. Cromwell also denies the charges.
But prosecutors claim DeQuattro paid checks into a shell company controled by Cromwell called One Nation Development. They say Cromwell used the money not for his political campaigns but for his own personal expenses. These included payments to his mistress.
Cromwell also told DeQuattro to book him a luxury room at the Seaport Hotel in Boston for his birthday weekend, and to send him home exercise equipment.
The trial opened with jury selection on Tuesday and Wednesday after being delayed by months because of the pandemic. If found guilty, Cromwell faces up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. He is also facing separate charges of tax evasion.
First Light, New Hope
With federal approval and financial backing from Malaysian casino giant Genting, the Mashpee were ready to break ground on the First Light Casino in 2016. But a lawsuit filed by a group of Taunton property owners and bankrolled by rival casino developer Neil Bluhm seriously derailed the project.
In July 2016, a federal judge ruled that US Interior Department had erred by taking land into trust for the tribe five years earlier. The Trump administration agreed, and the process began to remove the land from trust, and with it, the tribe’s right to organize gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
But the tribe’s fortunes turned again in June 2020. That’s when US District Judge Paul Friedman reversed the 2016 decision, which he called “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.”
The tribe now plans to move forward with the First Light project, and Genting is still on board. Legal challenges remain.
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