The Big Gamble

By Jason Schwartz | Boston Magazine |

Meanwhile, Marshall proved to be controversial at home. He governed with a paranoid style, shunning members who disagreed with him and removing them from the official rolls. Critics also charged that he stopped letting new members into the tribe to avoid diluting his voter base. (Tribal chairman is an elected position.) And then there was his association with Abramoff, who would go on to serve jail time for fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion. (Nothing in his Mashpee dealings was found to be untoward.) Marshall did get results, though. In 2007 the United States government finally recognized the Mashpee Wampanoag as an official tribe.

But while the Mashpee were rejoicing, the ruling set off alarm bells in the Massachusetts State House. Now that it was an official tribe, the Mashpee suddenly had the the same rights under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) that other tribes had used to open mammoth casinos like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Expanded gambling could be headed for Massachusetts, and there wasn’t much the state could do about it.

Passed in 1988, IGRA was designed to regulate the burgeoning Indian gaming industry by creating three classes of gambling. Class I involves small-time social gaming with minimal prizes, which tribes can offer with no oversight. Class II is for bingo parlors and bingo slots (a slot machine rigged to play bingo), which don’t need state approval and can operate tax free. Class III gaming, the real moneymaker — full-on slot machines, poker, craps — requires approval from the state.

At the time of their tribal recognition, the Mashpee didn’t actually have any reservation land. But Governor Deval Patrick anticipated that if they ever got it, the tribe would be able to open a Class II bingo slot parlor without paying any state taxes. Better, he reasoned, to work with the Mashpee on a deal that would bring in more money for them while also making sure the state got its share of the revenues. In other words, work something out where the tribe could open a Class III casino. (Patrick has also generally eyed gaming as a revenue generator.) So in 2007 the governor introduced legislation to authorize three resort casinos in Massachusetts, with a clause stating that the Indians would receive preference in the bidding process.

After that, though, things fell apart, for both the tribe and Patrick. On Beacon Hill, the anti-gambling speaker of the House, Sal DiMasi, crushed Patrick’s proposal. Meanwhile, in August 2007, reports surfaced that Glenn Marshall was a convicted rapist and had lied about his military service. Next came federal charges that Marshall had made illegal campaign contributions, filed false tax returns, fraudulently received Social Security disability benefits, and embezzled $380,000 from the tribe. Marshall pleaded guilty to all the charges in February 2009, and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

Marshall’s spectacular flameout left the Mashpees in chaos. Cedric Cromwell, who’d been a member of the tribal council for eight years, ran as a reform candidate to replace his old boss and bring stability. He was elected to a four-year term as chairman in 2009. The task before him was daunting: repair the tribe’s trust, clean up Marshall’s mess, and try to salvage the Mashpee casino bid. And then there were his own problems.

ON MAY 7
, a cool early-spring day on the Cape, a group of furious Mashpees gathered in a park near town hall to decry Cromwell and his administration. Media reports put attendance at about 50 people, but Chief Earl Mills insists it was closer to 100. Mills, along with former tribe vice chair David Pocknett and current tribal council member Carlton Hendricks, accused Cromwell of incompetence, irresponsible spending, and loading future generations of Mashpee with debt. They circulated a petition for an amendment to the Mashpee constitution that would require a tribal vote to approve all expenditures of more than $1.5 million. They also organized a recall movement.