Background Checks ‘Wholly Inappropriate’

Glenn Marshall’s dismissal as Tribal Council Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag has occasioned plenty of hand-wringing over who knew what when about the disgraced Mashpee boss. Marshall officially resigned last night as head of the tribe, on the heels of revelations that he’d been convicted of rape and lied about his vaunted war record.

The conventional assumption holds that the financial backers and developers who’ve partnered with the tribe must have been aware of Marshall’s background—and, more than that, been okay with it. After all, you don’t get in business to build a billion dollar resort without understanding exactly who you’re teaming up with, right? Wrong.

According to tribal spokesperson Scott Ferson, when the casino development team of Trading Cove Associates, led by Len Wolman and Sol Kerzner, signed its deal with the tribe in June, tribal leaders were not subjected to background checks after all. The group vetted the tribe’s earlier backers—those working with Detroit developer Herb Strather, who had bankrolled the casino development project since 1999—but not Marshall or other members of the Tribal Council.

“Trading Cove did extensive background checks on the investor group. And that’s appropriate,” Ferson said. “But not the tribe, which I think would be wholly inappropriate.” The reason, says Ferson, is that the tribe is no average business partner: It’s a sovereign government, with its own elected head of state.

Before he stepped down, the frequent insistence by that very head of state—Marshall—that he’d been making deals on behalf of a sovereign country might have sounded a tad grandiose. Several times when I spoke with him for a piece in this month’s magazine, he described his interaction with outside groups as being akin to how a national government would behave with contractors or other governments. When pressed about specifics of these dealings, he’d curtly invoke foreign nations: “Frankly it’s nobody’s business,” he told me in one exchange. “Would you ask France about its business?”

To borrow Marshall’s own analogy in order to explain the thinking: If you intended to do a joint venture with the French Republic, would you need to run Nicolas Sarkozy’s info through a data base to see what turned up before proceeding?

Perhaps not. But Marshall was not the president of a large and complex nation like France (never mind his proclivity to posture as if he was). And whether or not investors wished that they had tried to plumb the biographies of tribal leaders, it appears that even Marshall’s ouster won’t lead to closer scrutiny of the remaining Mashpee leaders. Ferson says that when he met with the tribal council yesterday, this very point came up.

“A tribe council member had what I think would be the reaction of the tribe,” he says. “If an investor came to them and said ‘We’d like to do a background check on you,’ one said, ‘I’d tell them to go to hell.’”

—Geoffrey Gagnon