CLEVELAND — A former Oberlin College instructor and an activist for indigenous people was indicted this week for allegedly stealing funds from the American Indian Education Center of Cleveland, where he is executive director.
Robert Roche, 70, of Cleveland, is charged in the U.S. District of Northern Ohio with multiple counts of conspiracy and theft of government funds.
“Mr. Roche took tens of thousands of dollars earmarked for Native American children and families and put the money in his own pockets,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman in a news release.
Roche, who was an instructor of American Indian History at Oberlin College in 2005-06, was a proponent of getting rid of the “Indians” name and Native American logo at Oberlin Schools in 2006. He also has said the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo mascot is racist, according to an Associated Press story.
He spoke at an Oberlin Council meeting in June on behalf of his organization in favor of changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.
According to the indictment, Roche worked with Craig McGuire of McGuire & Associates to embezzle grant money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Native Americans. The money was meant to provide Native American communities with the tools and resources to design programs to support mental health and wellness for children and families.
The charges state Roche “knowingly and intentionally” conspired to steal funds from this “Circle of Care” grant.
The center was awarded $302,340 through the grant in 2011 and another $308,040 in 2012, but the indictment notes that Roche’s organization did not get all the money because the government placed it in “high risk” status.
The indictment states that from 2011 to 2013, Roche and McGuire embezzled about $183,703.55 by moving money into personal accounts. Authorities said Roche took $77,097 of that for personal use.
Also, on several occasions, the indictment says Roche called himself a project coordinator for the grant and used that title to pay himself, which was not allowed under the terms of the grant.
According to court documents, Roche is scheduled to be arraigned Friday before District Court Judge Donald Nugent.
McGuire pleaded guilty in April of conspiracy to commit theft and theft of government funds. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 19 before District Court Judge James Gwin.
A number listed for the American Indian Education Center was disconnected Friday. Roche said in court document that his family is funding the cost of an attorney, but did not provide the name.
“The embezzlement, stealing or intentional misappropriation of these funds is inexcusable and will not be tolerated,” said Lamont Pugh III, special agent in charge U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General Chicago Region.
According to Pugh’s department, the center’s grant application contained numerous false statements including misrepresenting the date it was established, falsely claiming it had a wellness department and an afterschool program serving 500 children and fraudulently listing people the center allegedly employed.