A group describing themselves as “concerned members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe” sent an automated message urging fellow tribe members to attend Sunday’s tribal body meeting to discuss tribe finances.
By George Brennan firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Jan. 5, 2015 @ 6:20 pm
MASHPEE – A group describing themselves as “concerned members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe” sent an automated message urging fellow tribe members to attend Sunday’s tribal body meeting to discuss tribe finances.
The two-minute call, which came through on an Oklahoma City phone number, went through a variety of tribe financial concerns, including the borrowing of $100 million in pursuit of a Taunton casino project and $374 million in additional borrowing the group says is planned by the tribe’s gaming authority.
Tribe sources confirmed the authenticity of the call and the information in it.
The money borrowed thus far is from affiliates of Genting Group, a Malaysian casino giant that helped to fund Foxwoods in Connecticut. The tribe pays 16.5 percent interest on the debt, according to documents provided to the Times in the past.
Sunday’s phone message went through a series of “facts” and urged the tribal members receiving the message to “alert your family” and attend the meeting at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Mashpee Wampanoag Community and Government Center at 483 Great Neck Road South.
The tribe’s $12.5 million operating budget is subject to a vote of the tribal body Sunday. “The majority is spent for salaries and luxury travel,” the message stated. More than 150 telephone numbers received the message, a tribe source said.
Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell did not respond to a request for comment through the tribe’s public relations firm, Regan Communications. In the past, Cromwell has declined to discuss tribe finances with regard to Project First Light, saying those numbers are proprietary in nature.
He has publicly said the tribe is only responsible for repaying the money borrowed if a casino is built, though that’s disputed in the phone message to tribe members.
“Our research shows that the tribal families are responsible for any debt owed,” the automated message stated.
The tribe’s gaming authority consists of Cromwell, treasurer Robert Hendricks Sr., council member Charles “Bobby” Foster, council member Trish Keliinui, council member Yvonne Avant and project associate Melissa Hill, according to the tribe’s website.
Putting $374 million of borrowed money in the authority’s hands with no oversight is wrong, said one tribe member, who asked that his name not be used.
“We should all get a vote on that,” he said.
Other tribe sources contacted Monday also declined to comment on the record for fear of retribution. When two tribal council members, Carlton Hendricks Jr. and Laura Etta Miranda spoke to the Times in October about their concerns with the tribe's borrowing, they were criticized by Cromwell and there was a lengthy discussion at a tribal council meeting about possible sanctions. Ultimately, Hendricks and Miranda were not punished.
Sunday’s meeting comes with just one month until the tribe’s annual election on Feb. 8. The candidates haven’t been finalized yet, but six seats will be on the ballot — an election that could alter the balance of power on the council depending on who runs and wins. No tribal officer positions – chairman, vice chairman, treasurer or secretary — are on the ballot, however.
Candidates have until Sunday’s meeting to turn in their nomination papers.