The Big Gamble

By Jason Schwartz | Boston Magazine |

Cromwell claims to have experience dealing with numbers like these — he worked in investments at Fidelity for 10 years — but he hasn’t exactly helped himself with his personal financial situation. Earlier this year, he defaulted on a loan of more than $21,500 from the Household Finance Corporation. And when he was elected chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag in 2009, the local media reported that he owed more than $13,000 in back taxes and utility bills to the city of Attleboro, where he currently resides. He says the debts were the result of financial complications brought on by the passing of his father. Much of his bill has been paid down, but as of September, he still had $3,600 remaining on his tax tab. Asked about the back taxes in an interview, he appeared taken aback, and said he was on a payment plan. Within a week, his publicist called and implied that the taxes had been taken care of. Further review showed that was not the case: As of early November, Cromwell still owed Attleboro $1,732.14 in overdue taxes and an additional $4,262.57 for utilities. According to the city, Cromwell, who makes more than $100,000 per year from the tribe, had not paid a utility bill since July 2010. After Cromwell was asked about it again by Boston, a week later the utility bill was paid down to $622.42, though the tax balance stayed the same.

If nothing else, the unpaid bills are a reminder that, like his tribe, Cromwell is going through growing pains. Just a few years ago he was a regular Joe. Now he’s responsible for millions of dollars and thousands of people. Which is why he needs to find a place for his casino, fast.

THE MASHPEE HAVE been on the hunt for a casino location going all the way back to 2007, the first time Governor Patrick proposed a casino bill. Glenn Marshall struck a deal with the town of Middleborough back then to build the Mashpee resort there. The agreement called for the tribe to pay the town $250,000 per year in mitigation and planning costs. But upon taking office in 2009, Cromwell decided he didn’t like it. He says he can’t discuss the matter — Middleborough and the Mashpee are tied up in legal wrangling — but the speculation is that he was turned off by the cost of improving the town’s infrastructure.

In any case, Cromwell started snooping around Fall River. Middleborough officials claim he kept stringing them along even as he was scouting other locations, and when the Mashpee finally decided in May 2010 to shack up with Fall River instead, Middleborough officials claim they heard about it on the news. The $250,000 payments stopped and, not surprisingly, the bitterness remains: Middleborough selectman Allin Frawley says he plans to push his fellow selectmen to file a lawsuit the second the Mashpee strike a deal with some other place.

The Fall River deal fell apart in just five months, after a deed restriction on the proposed site of the casino and a lawsuit brought by a group of locals proved too much to overcome. So just months from the July 31 deadline, the tribe still doesn’t seem to have found a home for its casino. Cromwell will say only that he’s looking into sites across the area.

The problem is that there are only so many places in southeastern Massachusetts with the space for a casino and residents willing to accept one. It’s possible Fall River could come back into play — the town’s top economic development officer says he’s still very much in touch with the tribe — but several other potential locations seem to be out. The Mashpee had been in talks with Raynham Park owner George Carney to locate at his track, but those negotiations fell through in the fall. “I’m going to go in my own direction,” Carney says. “I’m not that crazy to get myself tied up with a lot of headaches that I don’t need.” There doesn’t seem to be much doing in Plymouth or Taunton, either, as development officers in those towns say they’ve heard nothing from the tribe. Outgoing New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang also said he’s had no recent formal contact with the Mashpee. Bridgewater was mentioned as a rumor in one report, but that was news to everyone in town hall. And considering that the tribe absolutely scorched its bridges in Middleborough, that’s no longer an option either.