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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Wampanoag Tribe election winners include Cromwell critics




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 include Cromwell critics


By Tanner Stening
Posted Feb 10, 2019



MASHPEE — The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s annual election Sunday saw three tribal council seats change hands, including a return to power of Aaron Tobey Jr., chairman Cedric Cromwell’s longtime critic.
Brian Weeden, Rita Pocknett Gonsalves, Carlton Hendricks Jr., Winnie Johnson-Graham, Yvonne Avant and Tobey were elected to the council seats, according to a tribal spokeswoman. Hendricks and Avant were incumbents, receiving 232 and 187 votes, respectively.
Weeden topped the ticket with 346 votes, followed by Gonsalves with 309; Johnson-Graham received 212 and Tobey received 201.
Joanne Frye and Denise Johnson-Hathaway were unseated, and Marie Stone lost by 10 votes.
The election comes as the tribal council struggles to secure the tribe’s reservation land, save an embattled casino project and quell internal doubts about its current leadership.
Last month, Cromwell was temporarily stripped of his fiduciary powers after news surfaced of problems with his personal finances, including $37,000 he and his wife, tribal council member Cheryl Frye-Cromwell, owe the IRS, and business interests subpoenaed in the course of their divorce proceeding. On Wednesday, the tribal council reversed course, voting to restore Cromwell’s fiduciary responsibilities and to rescind a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
Tobey promised to ramp up the pressure on Cromwell by supporting an investigation into alleged mismanagement of tribal money.
“He’s been very lucky to avoid any accountability, but now it’s about time he’s held accountable,” Tobey said previously.
Hendricks is also a sharp critic of Cromwell, and has called for more oversight of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Gaming Authority, a five-member board, headed by Cromwell, that a recent audit described as a “discretely presented component” of the tribe responsible for overseeing its stalled gaming operation.
In an interview, Hendricks said tribal debt has risen to roughly $507 million, over $60 million more than the last figure reported by the backer of the tribe’s casino plans, Genting Malaysia, and that none of that money was ever put aside for tribe members.



The tribe’s planned $1 billion casino resort in Taunton has languished since neighbors there successfully sued to overturn a decision by the Obama administration to take land into trust for the tribe. A federal judge remanded that decision to the Interior Department, which declined to take additional action on it. A bill pending in Congress would secure the tribe’s reservation land and bar additional legal challenges, but it faces significant opposition from competing gambling interests. The Rhode Island congressional delegation has also come out against it.


https://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20190210/wampanoag-tribe-election-winners-include-cromwell-critics

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mashpee tribe leader’s financial powers reinstated



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Mashpee tribe leader’s financial powers reinstated

By Tanner Stening
Posted Feb 7, 2019

MASHPEE — The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council has moved to restore Chairman Cedric Cromwell’s financial powers, three weeks after it decided unanimously to remove them and took a vote of no-confidence in him.
On Wednesday, council members voted 7-0 to rescind the no-confidence vote and reinstate Cromwell’s fiduciary responsibilities as chairman of the tribal council and president of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Gaming Authority, according to a statement issued by the tribe. The gaming authority is a five-member board overseeing the tribe’s long-stalled gaming operation.
The reversal comes four days before the tribe’s annual election. Cromwell is not up for re-election.
“Now that we’ve had time to look at this more carefully, based on evidence and documents, the Tribal Council made a conscious, collective decision to reinstate the Chairman’s power back,” Tribal Council Secretary Ann Marie Askew wrote in the statement.
It’s unclear what evidence the council reviewed before making the decision and a spokesman for the tribe said specifics about the evidence were not available.
The initial vote on Jan. 23 came after revelations that Cromwell and his wife, tribal council member Cheryl Frye-Cromwell, owe the IRS $37,000 in back taxes. The pair are going through a divorce proceeding in Taunton.

In addition, an unrelated financial audit of the tribe’s government services department for 2016 that was completed last year and posted to a publicly available federal website found numerous record-keeping flaws, including “material weaknesses and significant deficiencies” in the tribe’s internal control over its financial reporting and over major programs paid for by federal grants.
The audit also pointed out that the gaming authority had accumulated $375 million in debt as of January 2017. It described the gaming authority as a “discretely presented component of the tribe.” Tribal debt has since risen to more than $440 million as a result of loans provided by its casino backer, Genting Malaysia. That debt does not have to be paid back if the tribe’s $1 billion casino project in Taunton does not move forward, according to tribal officials.
The tribal council did not reinstate Cromwell’s financial authority because he asked them to, according to Askew.
“We did this on our own. We worked it out and we are tired of beating a dead horse. There is no evidence of any financial impropriety on the part of any tribal officer,” Askew wrote. “Our ancestors are twisting in their graves over people running to the news media to try and divide us.”
The tribe has been fighting a multiyear legal battle to secure its reservation. Neighbors of its planned resort casino sued the U.S. Department of the Interior after the federal agency took 321 acres of land into trust on the tribe’s behalf in 2015 under the Obama administration, effectively creating the reservation and seemingly paving the way for the gaming facility. A federal judge sided with the neighbors and sent that decision back to the Interior Department, which declined to take additional action, putting the future of the casino project at risk.
U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., has reintroduced a bill in Congress that would secure the land and bar future legal challenges to its status but it faces stiff opposition from a variety of interests.
In a statement, Cromwell wrote that it is difficult to see his credibility questioned, but that he remains committed to moving forward in an effort to secure the tribe’s reservation by pushing for the legislation.
“Of course it’s painful for personal attacks and innuendo to be flung in my direction, but this struggle is bigger than me or any one person,” he wrote. “So I will continue to fight for my people as best as I know how.”

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https://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20190207/mashpee-tribe-leaders-financial-powers-reinstated

Mashpee tribal council candidates cite need for change




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Mashpee tribal council candidates cite need for change


By Tanner Stening
Posted Feb 8, 2019

MASHPEE — Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe members will go to the polls Sunday to decide on six tribal council seats that are up for grabs at a critical time.
The election comes as the tribal council struggles to secure the tribe’s reservation land, save an embattled casino project and quell internal doubts about its current leadership.
Nine candidates are vying for the seats, including three incumbents: Carlton Hendricks Jr., Edwina Johnson-Graham and Yvonne Avant. The other candidates are Denise Johnson-Hathaway, Aaron Tobey Jr., Brian Weeden, Joanne Frye, Rita Pocknett Gonsalves and Marie Stone. The race includes faces familiar to the council and newcomers like Weeden, 26, who said he wants to bring significant reforms to give tribe members a greater say in their government.
“I don’t believe that a handful of people should be making decisions on behalf of 3,000 people,” Weeden said, adding that he’d like to see the tribe adopt referendum-style voting on important laws and ordinances.
Weeden said he would push for a long-dormant ethics ordinance that would require, among other things, tribal council members to disclose their personal business interests.
“This is something we’ve (the membership) been asking for repeatedly,” he said.
Weeden also wants to see more financial oversight through the creation of a finance committee that would act as a check against government fraud and waste.
Frye, Gonsalves, Avant and Johnson-Hathaway could not be reached for comment, and Stone declined to speak to a reporter when reached.
Several of the candidates who responded to interview requests alluded to the ongoing turmoil in the upper echelon of the tribal government.
Last month, tribal council Chairman Cedric Cromwell was temporarily stripped of his fiduciary powers after news surfaced of problems with his personal finances, including $37,000 he and his wife, tribal council member Cheryl Frye-Cromwell, owe the IRS, and business interests that were subpoenaed in the course of their divorce proceeding. On Wednesday, the tribal council reversed itself, voting to restore Cromwell’s fiduciary responsibilities and to rescind a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
“Cedric has got to go,” Tobey said. “We need new leadership — a clean sweep.”
There is tribal money that is unaccounted for, according to Tobey. If elected, he would initiate an investigation into Cromwell and the leadership, he said.
“He’s been very lucky to avoid any accountability, but now it’s about time he’s held accountable,” Tobey said.
Tobey said he would also push for an amendment to the 2008 Intergovernmental Agreement between the town and the tribe to give tribe members living in Mashpee a property tax exemption. The tribe owns the original deed to Mashpee, encompassing 25 square miles, as well as parts of Falmouth and Cotuit, he said.
“The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has been an absentee landlord for quite a while,” he said. “We have a deed to Mashpee. It is an enforceable deed, and there should be some kind of compensation for that.”
In an interview, Hendricks also zeroed in on Cromwell’s administration, saying debt incurred by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Gaming Authority has risen to roughly $507 million, more than $60 million more than the last figure reported by the backer of the tribe’s casino plans, Genting Malaysia.
The gaming authority is a five-member board, headed by Cromwell, that a recently released 2016 audit described as a “discretely presented component” of the tribe responsible for overseeing its stalled gaming operation. Members have long called for more transparency into the entity’s finances.
The tribe’s planned $1 billion casino resort in Taunton has languished since neighbors there successfully sued to overturn a decision by the Obama administration to take land into trust for the tribe. A federal judge remanded that decision to the Interior Department, which declined to take additional action on it. A bill pending in Congress would secure the tribe’s reservation land and bar additional legal challenges but it faces significant opposition.
No gaming authority money has been “set aside” specifically for tribe members, Hendricks said.
“We haven’t had one profitable tribal business in over 10 years,” he said. “And Cedric’s made a lot of money for his personal businesses.”
In his ongoing divorce, Cromwell failed to produce financial documents associated with several of his private companies, according to court documents.
The tribe’s finances, meanwhile, have also continued to suffer. Expenditures from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of 2018 left the tribe with $83,670 in its general fund, according to a statement of its expenses and revenue for the year obtained by the Times. The tribe had to lay off 31 people last year and Cromwell said more cuts were expected this year, although its unclear how much is currently in its coffers.
“The question is, was he serving the tribe or himself,” Hendricks said. “I’m trying to bring integrity and transparency back to this tribe. Hopefully we as a people will elect councilors that will serve the people and not themselves, and will hold this administration accountable.”
Cromwell previously dismissed concerns over his businesses, saying they are unrelated to Genting and the tribe. After the tribal council voted to reinstate Cromwell’s financial powers, he said it was “difficult” to see his credibility called into question.
Johnson-Graham, who’s been on the tribal council since 2009, said she’s focused on the legislation to secure the tribe’s land, noting that the looming threat of losing tribal trust lands is the most urgent issue.
“We just went 10 steps backwards with this new administration,” she said about the Trump presidency. “I don’t want to leave my kid with a landless tribe.”
Johnson-Graham also wants to focus on helping tribal members suffering from addiction, and on economic development initiatives.
Sunday’s election will take place at the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Community & Government Center, at 483 Great Neck Road South. All enrolled tribe members are allowed to register on or before election day. Election results will be posted Monday at the government center.

https://www.capecodtimes.com/news/20190208/mashpee-tribal-council-candidates-cite-need-for-change?utm_source=SFMC&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GHM_Daily_Newsletter_Cape_Cod_Times&utm_content=GTDT_CCT&utm_term=020919



Thursday, February 7, 2019

Aquinnah seeks regional oversight of Wampanoag gaming facility



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Aquinnah seeks regional oversight of Wampanoag gaming facility


By Ethan Genter
Posted Feb 5, 2019

Board asks land-use agency to step in as plans for tribal bingo hall remain unclear.
AQUINNAH — The Aquinnah Board of Selectmen has asked the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to step in and oversee Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head’s plans for a bingo hall facility on the west end of the island.
The town and state have fought against the hall, arguing that it violates state and local regulations, and brought a lawsuit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear the case, leaving intact a federal appeals court decision in favor of the tribe’s right to have a gaming facility under the 1988 federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
But Aquinnah officials maintain that more local approvals are needed.
“As you will see, other than seeking a beer and wine permit from the Town, the Tribe has stated that they will not seek any other permits from the Town or from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission,” the board wrote in a letter to Adam Turner, the commission’s executive director, last month. “It is the Town’s position that local and MVC permits are required for this facility. As you are aware, the MVC has jurisdiction over these lands pursuant to its Enabling Act.
“In our view, there has never been a proposed development contemplated in Aquinnah that could have more potential regional impacts than this proposed gaming facility.”
The Martha’s Vineyard Commission is a regional agency that oversees land-use planning and regulates certain development on the island.
The tribe announced a partnership with the Chickasaw Nation’s hospitality enterprise, Global Gaming Solutions, in August, but otherwise public details on the bingo hall have been scarce since the Supreme Court’s decision in January 2018 not to take the case.
Before its letter to the commission, the selectmen wrote to Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, tribal council chairwoman, to confirm details of the gaming facility.
The board wrote that its understanding was that the facility would be on the former property of John Wiener on State Road and would be about 10,000 square feet with about 250 gaming machines. The facility would be serviced by food trucks, the selectmen wrote, but there were no details on hours of operation, parking, use projections and bathrooms.
“Could you kindly confirm that the above is accurate,” the board wrote, asking for a response by Jan. 15.
“We are still in the planning stages but appreciate the open dialogue we had with (Selectman) Jim Newman and (Town Counsel) Ron Rappaport, and we look forward to continuing that conversation,” Andrews-Maltais wrote in response to the board Jan. 18.
She asked for possible dates to meet with board members but wrote that the tribe believes that Selectman Juli Vanderhoop, another tribe member, should recuse herself from any decisions regarding the tribe or its interests because she is involved in a legal dispute with the tribe over a breach of commercial lease.
“Given her conflicting interest, the Tribe does not believe it is appropriate to discuss this or any other Tribal matter with her,” Andrews-Maltais wrote. “We request that the Town look into whether she should be recused under the circumstances.”
Andrews-Maltais, Turner and Newman did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Aquinnah Town Administrator Jeffrey Madison said a meeting between the board and the tribe has not been set up.

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s past accounting practices faulted



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Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s past accounting practices faulted


By Tanner Stening
Posted Feb 1, 2019

MASHPEE — As the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe struggles to secure its reservation lands and save an embattled casino project already saddled with a mountain of debt, a recently published 2016 audit has raised additional concerns about its finances and accounting practices.
The audit of the tribe’s government services department sent to the tribal council on June 27 by Arizona-based Walker and Armstrong LLP outlines a myriad of deficiencies and weaknesses in internal controls, including accounting policies and procedures more than a decade out-of-date, discrepancies in the pay rates of employees, and lack of regular inventory of capital assets. The report pointed to practices that left the tribe open to potential theft and fraud.
The government services department includes human services, education, historic preservation, natural resources, housing, public works, health services, public safety, planning and development and tribal administration, according to the 30-page report, which was posted to a publicly accessible database maintained by the federal government.
Representatives from the auditing firm did not return messages requesting comment.
Although the document identified numerous record-keeping flaws, the audit does not point to any instances of financial impropriety or violations of law.
The audit identified “material weaknesses and significant deficiencies” in the tribe’s internal control over its financial reporting and over major programs paid for by federal grants.
Those problems include the use of an accounting manual from 2003 — which auditors warn heightens the risk of “material misstatements, fraud and an inefficient accounting and reporting process” — to failing to submit a single audit reporting package required by the federal government within nine months of the year’s end due to “numerous reporting errors in prior years that required significant analysis and correction.”
The audit cited a lack of internal controls over payroll processing. For two of 40 transactions tested, employee pay rates used did not match what was listed in personnel files. Auditors also couldn’t locate authorized pay rates for employees in nine of 40 transactions tested.
“Furthermore, management is not reviewing the payroll registers prior to processing and recording payroll in the general ledger,” the report says.
Tribal finance officials kept stocks of check in an unlocked cabinet during the day and signature stamps used to sign checks were not kept in a secure location, creating opportunities for employees to “initiate unauthorized transactions that could go undetected,” according to the report.
Tribal officials did not monitor the provisions of vendor contracts to verify that contractors complied with the wage requirement for Indian Housing Block Grants, the report says. The grants provide a range of affordable housing activities on Indian reservations and Indian areas, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Weaknesses and deficiencies in the audit are typical of accounting departments in smaller organizations that are not well managed, according to Timothy Mitchell, associate department chairman for accounting at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“Those ... weaknesses demonstrate that there is opportunity for fraud, but not that fraud occurred,” Mitchell said Friday.
The financial statements provided to the auditor by the tribe reflect only transactions from each major fund across 2016, and do not show year-over-year changes with respect to the tribe’s financial position or its cash flows. The tribe’s government services department receives roughly 19 percent of its revenue from federal sources, according to the audit.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Gaming Authority had accumulated $375 million in debt as of January 2017, the report says. The audit describes the gaming authority, a five-member board charged with overseeing the tribe’s long-stalled gaming operation planned for 150 acres in Taunton, as a “discretely presented component of the tribe.” In 2016, the authority transferred more than $17 million in cash and real estate to tribal operations.
The tribe has been fighting a multiyear legal battle to secure its reservation. Neighbors of its planned $1 billion resort casino sued the U.S. Department of the Interior after the federal agency took 321 acres of land into trust on the tribe’s behalf in 2015 under the Obama administration, effectively creating the reservation and seemingly paving the way for the gaming facility. A federal judge sided with the neighbors and sent that decision back to the Interior Department, which declined to take additional action, putting the future of the casino project at risk.
U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., has reintroduced a bill in Congress that would secure the land and bar future legal challenges to its status but it faces stiff opposition from a variety of interests.
The tribe is under no contractual agreement to repay the authority debt based on an outside legal review, according to the audit. Additionally, the tribe has not guaranteed the payment of the debt or any other gaming authority obligation.
But if the Taunton land is taken out of trust, the tribe would have “contractual exposure” for the authority’s debt obligations associated with any liens, created by the tribal mortgage, on the property.
“This leak of confidential financial information is clearly an attack on our Tribe, designed to raise suspicion with non-Tribal partners and allies and sow discord within the Tribal Citizenry,” the tribe’s treasurer Gordon Harris wrote in a statement emailed to the Times on Thursday. “It’s difficult enough to fight for our land and combat the assaults on our sovereign rights without having to deal with leaks intended to undermine the hard work and credibility of dedicated, committed tribal servants.”
But the audit is publicly available information on the Federal Audit Clearinghouse website. All nonfederal entities spending more than $750,000 in federal awards must be audited, according to the federal Office of Management and Budget guidelines. Tribes may opt out of making their reporting packages publicly available on the website, according to an official with the Federal Audit Clearinghouse.
Harris acknowledged that there were “financial reporting, accounting and internal control areas that need improvement,” but said the findings by Walker and Armstrong were “typical” of audit reports.
“Once notified of these audit findings, the tribe and its management immediately developed and is implementing corrective action measures to effectively address each audit finding,” Harris wrote. “The implementation of these corrective measures addresses each of the audit findings.”
The tribal government is committed to strengthening its internal control over its accounting, he wrote. The audit report included a corrective action plan prepared by the tribe that was to be completed by Dec. 31. It is unclear from Harris’ statement whether the plan has been implemented.
The tribe’s comptroller was listed as the contact for the majority of the plan.
But findings from the audit appear to contradict earlier statements from the tribe’s chairman, Cedric Cromwell, who was recently stripped of control over the tribe’s finances after a Times story about his personal financial problems.
Cromwell previously said the tribe’s financial record-keeping is subject to “regular outside audits to ensure we maintain best practices in terms of accounting.”
Last week, the tribal council voted 7-0 to strip Cromwell of his fiduciary duties as chairman and in his role as president of the gaming authority, according to sources present at the time. The council also took a vote of no confidence in Cromwell, 9-0, with one abstention, signalling a lack of faith in his leadership. The move to limit Cromwell’s control and influence came after revelations that he and his wife, council member Cheryl Frye-Cromwell, owe the IRS roughly $37,000 in unpaid taxes.
Since Cromwell’s rise to power in 2009, the tribe has racked up $440 million in debt to its financial backer, Genting Malaysia, which recently wrote off its investment in the tribe as a loss. Financial records detailing that debt, the repayment of which tribe leaders say is contingent on the success of the Taunton casino, have been kept out of public view, and even from tribe members, although the Walker and Armstrong audit sheds some light on the flow of money through the gaming authority to the tribe.
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More recent financial information show the tribe’s financial situation has deteriorated dramatically since the period covered by the audit. Expenditures from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of 2018 left the tribe with $83,670 in its general fund, according to a statement of its expenses and revenue for the year obtained by the Times.
The tribe began 2018 with $6,369,258 in the fund, and spent $6,285,589 as of the end of the year, the document shows. Those figures were roughly equal to what the tribe had in cash or cash equivalents in 2016, according to the audit.
Of the total allocated for general spending purposes for fiscal year 2018, $5.4 million came from loans issued by Genting, a figure that is about half of what the tribe received from the international casino developer in 2017.
It is unclear what the tribe currently has in its coffers. Tribal financial records are typically not publicly available.
“Obviously it’s concerning that they owe $440 million and don’t have a productive asset to show for it,” Mitchell said. “You don’t borrow money for things that don’t produce income in the future.”
In response to the mounting financial pressure, the tribe laid off 31 employees in the past year, and Cedric Cromwell has warned that more layoffs and service cuts were likely this year.
— Follow Tanner Stening on Twitter: @tsteningCCT.


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