ELYRIA — A former Oberlin College instructor and an activist for indigenous people was sentenced to prison for stealing more than $77,000 in federal grants designed to help Native Americans.
Robert Roche, 71, was sentenced to four months in prison followed by four months of home confinement by U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent. Roche previously pleaded guilty to counts of theft from programs receiving federal funds.
Roche also was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $77,097.
“This defendant stole from taxpayers and betrayed the Native American families he purported to help,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. “He took tens of thousands of dollars designated for mental health and wellness programs and put the money in his own pockets.”
Roche served as executive director of the American Indian Education Center, a Parma-based nonprofit established in 1995 to support Native American causes in Northeast Ohio, according to court documents.
Craig McGuire operated McGuire and Associates LLC, a company that wrote grant applications and provided evaluation services. Roche entered into an agreement with McGuire and Associates in April 2011 to draft grant proposals on behalf of the AIEC.
Later that year, McGuire submitted an application on behalf of the AIEC to receive a Circle of Care grant, offered through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant was designed to provide Native American communities with the tools and resources to design programs to support mental health and wellness for children and families, according to court documents.
The AIEC’s application contained numerous false statements including: misrepresenting the date the AIEC was established, falsely claiming the AIEC had a wellness department and a “Positive Paths” after-school program serving 500 children when no such department or program existed, fraudulently listing people the AIEC allegedly employed and mischaracterizing the description of the AIEC’s building and alleged physical amenities, according to court documents.
The AIEC was awarded approximately $482,766 from SAMHSA from 2011 through 2013. The AIEC did not receive full funding because SAMHSA placed it in “high risk” status, according to court documents.
Roche paid himself through AIEC on several occasions as a project coordinator for the Circle of Care project. Roche was not identified as the project coordinator on the grant application and such payments were precluded by regulation, according to court documents.
Roche and McGuire embezzled at least $183,703 from the SAMHSA grant. Roche converted approximately $77,097 of that money for his own personal use, according to court documents.
McGuire pleaded guilty to crimes related to his role in the conspiracy.
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 spoke at an Oberlin City Council meeting last summer on behalf of his organization in favor of changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.