Beware the man with green heart
By Peter Kenney, Yarmouth Mass.
With these six words the American Indian proverb captures the current plight of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts. The green heart signifies greed and the greed of some of the tribe’s leaders and all of its so-called investors has caused a constitutional crisis within the tribe.
One man became the public face of the entire tribe as its tribal council chairman. He was revealed as a liar and convicted rapist and in late August was forced out of office. This man, Glenn Marshall, was accompanied during his seven-year reign by other tribal council members who helped him as he granted secret contracts to shadowy outsiders who want to use the tribe’s new-found sovereignty for their own profit.
It is a story repeated many times across America in Indian country. For at least five years rumors have circulated within the tribe that all was not well. There were suspicions that the tribe was being betrayed by its leaders and had sold out its native advantage for a very small share of a huge profit.
Now it has been proven that a wealthy gambling promoter and a real-estate developer were the actual money behind the tribe’s shadowy benefactor, Detroit investor Herbert Strather. These two men, Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman (principals in the Twin River casino, in Lincoln), are the money behind the development of Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun complex and are believed to have reaped a billion in profit so far.
They used convoluted contracts to minimize the tribe’s profits for their own benefit. When the tribe complained, tribe members were told they could buy out their investors for 5 percent of the gaming revenues until 2014, when the Mohegan Sun casino resort will become entirely Indian-owned, but it will have cost the tribe dearly to accomplish this ownership. In the first year, the payment was $60 million. Last year the tribe paid their investors $78 million.
The tribe’s members had never been allowed to review, much less approve or reject, the contracts that its tribal council had negotiated with the investorsThese same two men are now known to be the actual investors in the Mashpees’ casino plans in Massachusetts, although this fact did not become known to the tribe until less than a year ago. The tribe’s members had never been allowed to review, much less approve or reject, the contracts that its tribal council had negotiated with the investors. This was because of a change in the tribe’s constitution masterminded by outside consultants who were paid by the investors.
Four tribe members who petitioned the Barnstable County Superior Court for an order forcing tribal leaders to open the tribe’s books for inspection were defeated in court, and then shunned for seven years; denied access to all tribal activities and lands. A fifth member was shunned after she wrote a letter supporting the four that was published in the local daily paper, The Cape Cod Times. These five were certain that the tribe’s business had been mishandled. Ongoing events vindicate them.
To this day the tribe’s spokesman, Scott Ferson, of Boston’s Liberty Square Group, and its lawyers are paid by the investors. Conflict of interest does not appear to be an issue for some members of the bar or for the politically connected Ferson, who once served as press secretary to Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Send a News Tip here.It is clear to outside observers and increasingly to tribe members that the affairs of the Mashpee are controlled by outsiders, men with green hearts. And, the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley are all investigating tribal affairs. Federal subpoenas have been served on the tribal council and its officers.
One crisis seems to follow another. Now Massachusetts Governor Patrick has announced that he will file legislation calling for the commonwealth to identify sites where gaming resorts will be allowed. He indicates he will seek approval for three gaming developments, perhaps four, and he says that one of the gaming operations licensed will have an Indian component. He, like local officials in the rural town of Middleboro, where the tribe has an agreement to build a casino and where they have already purchased land that they are now placing in a federal Indian land trust, sees casinos as a solution to multiple problems.
Tribe's New Buffalo may became Bay State's Cash Cow
Governor Patrick says that his proposed 27-percent tax on casino revenues would let the state lower individual property taxes, repair crumbling infrastructure, enhance local aid and ease the state’s severe budget woes. Clearly he sees casinos as a cash cow.
Indians once saw them as the new buffalo, one creature capable of providing all of the tribe’s needs. However, experience shows us that even the best-intentioned revenue schemes in Massachusetts fail to live up to their overly optimistic promise. And nationally there seem to be more horror stories than success stories where tribal gaming is involved.
The Mashpees are at a critical juncture in their history. Their governance is a shambles and their once golden opportunity to become the sole gaming operators in Massachusetts has disappeared, but the voices of dissent and change within the tribe are strong.
Instead of just a gambling empire controlled by green hearts, perhaps the Mashpee Wampanoag will emerge from this crisis with strong tribal government, land they can use productively and as much future as they already have history. This ancient and honorable people deserve better than they have received to this point.