Tribe chairman arrested for extortion related to Taunton casino

Head of architecture firm allegedly paid $57,000 in bribes

THE CHAIRMAN of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and the owner of an architecture firm that the tribe contracted with to help build a casino in Taunton have been arrested on bribery and extortion charges.

Tribe chairman Cedric Cromwell, 55, of Attleboro, and David DeQuattro, 54, of Warwick, Rhode Island, are facing federal charges, US Attorney Andrew Lelling announced Friday.

“Many American Indians face a host of difficult financial and social issues. They require – and deserve – real leadership,” Lelling said in a statement. “But it appears that Cromwell’s priority was not to serve his people, but to line his own pockets.”

The indictment alleges that DeQuattro paid a steady stream of bribes to Cromwell in exchange for favorable actions on the casino contract by the tribal Gaming Authority, which Cromwell led.

The arrest is the latest in a long-running saga as the Native American tribe attempts to build the state’s southeastern region casino. The project has been delayed due to federal litigation over the tribe’s ability under federal law to take land in Taunton into trust, and Cromwell has long been criticized for his handling of the project’s finances.

A tribal spokesman said in a statement, “The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is deeply concerned about Chairman Cedric Cromwell being indicted on several charges. Tribal Council will hold an emergency meeting this afternoon and will be taking immediate action.”

In 2012, when the Mashpee Wampanoag began developing their plans to build the First Light Resort and Casino, the tribe contracted with the architecture and design firm Robinson Green Beretta Corp., of which DeQuattro was the head.

Between 2014 and 2017, the indictment alleges, DeQuattro paid Cromwell money and in-kind benefits valued at $57,500. In exchange, DeQuattro’s company was paid nearly $5 million through its casino contract.

Cromwell created a shell company, One Nation Development, to accept payments, including DeQuattro’s, then used that money on his personal expenses – including payments to his mistress.

The way the scam worked was DeQuattro gave money to One Nation Development, which was set up as a nonprofit charitable organization, on the pretense that he was making charitable contributions or donations to Cromwell’s reelection campaign. To disguise the payments, DeQuattro paid them from his personal account through an intermediary company owned by an unnamed friend of Cromwell. Then DeQuattro and his company’s president, who is not named in the indictment, agreed to reimburse DeQuattro with company money, disguising those payments as bonus or salary checks.

The payments include five $10,000 checks that Cromwell asked DeQuattro for and DeQuattro paid. Cromwell also asked DeQuattro to buy him home exercise equipment, in the form of a used Bowflex Revolution home gym.

For his birthday, Cromwell asked DeQuattro to book him a weekend at a “very nice hotel in Boston,” asking specifically about a room at the Four Seasons or a suite at the Seaport Hotel. He added, “I am going to have a special guest with me.” DeQuattro’s company paid around $530 a night to book Cromwell for three nights in a Seaport Hotel suite – and paid a total of more than $1,800 for the weekend, which included Cromwell’s room service, restaurant tab, and parking expenses. Days later, Cromwell signed checks from the tribal gaming authority for nearly $300,000 to DeQuattro’s company.

Cromwell and DeQuattro are both charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery. Cromwell is also charged with extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion. The US Attorney’s office is seeking forfeiture of the money and property Cromwell obtained illegally.

The extortion charges carry sentences of up to 20 years in state prison. The bribery charges carry penalties of up to 10 years in  prison.

The men will make initial appearances in court via video Friday afternoon.

Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, said in a statement that the allegations are “extremely troubling and indicate a disdain for the rule of law.” He added: “Both men’s alleged actions undercut the efforts of hard-working tribe members and betrayed their trust.”

This story was updated with a comment from the tribe.