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Prominent Chief Wahoo protester sentenced for embezzling grant money meant to help Native Americans

August 29, 2018

Prominent Chief Wahoo protester sentenced for embezzling grant money meant to help Native Americans

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A prominent activist known for his opposition to the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo mascot was sentenced Wednesday to four months in prison and four months’ house arrest for stealing more than $77,000 in federal grant money meant to benefit Native Americans in Northeast Ohio.

Robert Roche was also ordered to pay back the money he stole, which he said would mostly come from a retirement account he planned to liquidate. Senior U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent also said that either the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the U.S. Probation Office shall monitor Roche’s nonprofits while he is on probation to ensure they are in compliance with federal law.

Roche, 71, of Cleveland pleaded guilty in May to two counts of theft of government funds, admitting that he embezzled Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant money awarded to the Parma-based American Indian Education Center, where he served as executive director. 

He used the money to pay personal expenses, federal prosecutors said.

Roche declined comment after the hearing.

Roche, who is Chiricahua Apache Indian, has been a vocal advocate for the need for more resources for Native Americans. He has also been a well-known face in the movement to rid Cleveland of Chief Wahoo, the controversial mascot of the Indians the team is phasing out.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services investigated Roche for several years before his indictment in August 2017.

Investigators said Roche worked with consultant Craig McGuire to steal Circle of Care grant money. The grants the pair secured were supposed to support mental health and wellness programs for Native American children and families.

Prosecutors said SAMHSA sent Roche’s non-profit $482,766 grants between 2011 and 2013 and did not get all the money it was awarded because SAMHSA placed it in “high risk” status. Of that money, Roche and McGuire embezzled a combined $183,703, according to the indictment.

Roche took a salary by classifying himself as a project coordinator of the programs paid for by the grant, even though the grant’s regulations precluded him from doing so. The grant applications also contained false statements, prosecutors said.

McGuire, a Lewis Center resident whose company wrote grant applications, pleaded guilty in 2017 to conspiracy and theft of government funds. He was sentenced in July to 6 months’ electronic monitoring, three years’ probation and a $10,000 fine.

This story will be updated.

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