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Activist Who Led Campaign Against ‘Racist’ Mascot Charged With Stealing From Native Americans

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Wednesday, a prominent activist known for his opposition to the Cleveland Indians mascot was sentenced to four months in prison with four months of house arrest to follow for stealing over $77,000 in federal grant money that was meant to benefit Native Americans in Northeast Ohio.

71-year-old resident of Cleveland, Robert Roche, according to the Associated Press, “pleaded guilty to two counts of theft from programs receiving federal funds in May.” Having admitted he embezzled Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant money that had been awarded to the Parma-based American Indian Education Center, where he had served as executive director, Roche now faces prison time.

Investigators said Roche worked along side consultant Craig McGuire to steal the grant money from Circle of Care. Of the $482,766 sent to Roche’s non-profit by SAMHSA  between 2011 and 2013, Roche and McGuire embezzled a combined $183,703, according to the indictment. McGuire, a Lewis Center resident, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and theft of government funds in 2017. In July, he was sentence to 6 months of electronic monitoring, three years of probation and a $10,000 fine.

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According to the federal government, the grant money was meant to have gone to fund programs that tackled “mental health” and overall wellness issues within the Native American community. Federal prosecutors say that Roche used the money to pay personal expenses.

Only after being questioned by Senior U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent, did Roche speak on his reasons for misusing the grand money. He explained to the court the money he took was in the form of payroll checks and that he took the money “to help the center, to help the community.”

Roche’s lawyer Michael Lear tried to secure a lighter sentence for his client by highlighting Roche’s physical and mental ailments.

Fellow Native American activist and executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, Philip Yenyo, said that Roche’s actions severely hurt the public’s view on Native American activists. “We’re all seen as the same now. That we’re money grubbing,” Yenyo said.

Judge Nugent ordered Roche to pay back the money he stole, to which Lear explained the majority of the money would be coming from a retirement account his client planned to liquidate. Nugent also said that federal authorities would be monitoring Roche’s nonprofits while he is on active probation to ensure they’re in compliance with federal law.

You may remember Roche for his role protesting Chief Wahoo, where he was frequently seen outside of the Indians’ stadium in Cleveland confronting fans. He was also featured in a documentary on Native American activism in Ohio:

WATCH WaWHO?: A Documentary, featuring Roche:

In January, major league baseball announced that Chief Wahoo would be removed from players’ uniforms beginning next year. “The team must maintain a retail presence so that MLB and the Indians can keep ownership of the trademark,” The Associated Press reports. However, the team name which has also been criticized as being offensive, will not be changing.

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