A Cleveland man known for his opposition to the Cleveland Indians' "Chief Wahoo" mascot has admitted to stealing more than $77,000 in federal grant money meant to help Native Americans, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Robert Roche, 71, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft from programs receiving federal funds.
According to prosecutors, Roche and consultant Craig McGuire conspired to divert money from the American Indian Education Center (AIEC) in suburban Parma, where Roche served as executive director.
Investigators say McGuire submitted false applications to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). According to prosecutors, McGuire falsely claimed that the center offered an afterschool program for 500 children and had a "wellness department."
The Indians have said they will phase out use of the Chief Wahoo logo this season.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cleveland, the center received $482,766 in grant money from SAMHSA between 2011 and 2013. Roche diverted $77,097 of that money for his personal use.
"This defendant stole from taxpayers and betrayed the Native American families he purported to help," U.S. Attorney Justin E. Herdman said. "He took tens of thousands of dollars designated for mental health and wellness programs and put the money in his own pockets."
Cleveland.com reported that Roche was indicted in August 2017. McGuire pleaded guilty to conspiracy and theft of government funds in April of last year and is awaiting sentencing.
Roche, an Apache, has been a prominent face in the movement to scrap the cartoon Chief Wahoo mascot that detractors consider racist. In January, the Indians announced that it would phase out the logo and would remove it from use entirely for the 2019 baseball season.
Roche is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 29.