Local American Indian Leader from Viral Chief Wahoo Protest Photo Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement

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PHOTO CREDIT: TOM SULLENS
  • Photo Credit: Tom Sullens
Robert Roche, the local American Indian leader who for years has been a vocal figure in campaigns to eliminate the Chief Wahoo logo, has pleaded guilty to embezzling federal funds.

The money came from grants made by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to the American Indian Education Center, in Parma, where Roche served as executive director. He stole $77,000 from the grants and used it to pay for personal expenses.

He told Scene during previous coverage that as the center's only full-time employee, finances were one of many perpetual challenges. His personal salary fluctuated in accordance with grant funding, reaching an eye-popping high of $136,000 in 2012 and a low of $12,000 in 2010.

The embezzlement was executed with the aid of Craig McGuire, a consultant who wrote the grant applications. Cleveland.com reported that 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." Roche and McGuire embezzled more than $180,000 in total.



The 71-year-old Roche, based on an agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office, will likely serve between 10 and 16 months in Federal prison. He will be sentenced on August 29.

Roche has been protesting Chief Wahoo with the fractious local chapter of the American Indian Movement since the early 1970s. In 2014, Roche made national headlines when a photo of an opening-day confrontation between him and an Indians fan in garish redface went viral.

Two years later, the fan, Pedro Rodriguez, returned to the opening day protest without his makeup and headdress to apologize, (photo above).   

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