Former Professor Faces Federal Charges

Jenna Gyimesi, News Editor

A former Oberlin Experimental College Professor Robert Roche was formally indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and theft of government funds last Wednesday.

An Apache Native American himself, Roche serves as the executive director of the American Indian Education Center and is a prominent national activist in the fight to end racism against indigenous peoples. However, he may have harmed and stolen from the very people he has fought to defend.

Roche and his alleged co-conspirator, Craig McGuire of Cleveland, are accused of embezzling over $180,000 in federal grant money. Roche allegedly pocketed about $77,000 for personal use.

McGuire pled guilty in April to charges raised against him. The upcoming trial will be presided over by Judge Douglas D. Dodd. U.S. Attorney Justin E. Herdman, representing the Northern District of Ohio, will be prosecuting the case.

“Mr. Roche took tens of thousands of dollars earmarked for Native American children and families and put the money in his own pockets,” Herdman said in a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

McGuire admitted to applying for a Circles of Care grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant was intended to support mental health and wellness programs for Native families.

On the application filed by McGuire, however, Roche made false statements, including the mention of a wellness department and a “positive paths” after-school program. The programs never existed and the money was subsequently never used to support Native peoples. Additionally, Roche supposedly fraudulently listed employees that were never hired and have never been associated with the American Indian Education Center.

“Federal funds provided through the Circles of Care grant administered by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Administration are precious and invaluable to the communities and individuals they serve,” the Ohio Department of Justice website quoted Lamont Pugh III, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General as saying. “The embezzlement, stealing, or intentional misappropriation of these funds is inexcusable and will not be tolerated.”

From 2008 to 2012, the Education Center collected $1.4 million in government grants. According to the Center’s tax return, Roche collected $153,000 in salary and benefits in 2014.

Roche’s charges contradict the movements he was a part of. He was a key speaker in the Oberlin campaign to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Roche was also instrumental in organizing protests against Cleveland’s professional baseball team’s Chief Wahoo logo. He argued that the symbol continued to perpetuate the dehumanization of Native Americans. His indictment comes at a crucial time; negotiations of the logo were anticipated to take place before the start of the 2018 season. Members of the indigenous community have expressed fear that his charges may have discredited the message of the protestors in the eyes of the public.

Roche taught Native American history through an Exco at Oberlin College from 2005 to 2006. He could face a sentence of between eight and fourteen months in federal prison.