Man With Flair for Reinventing Himself Goes a Step Too Far
The Golden Eagle is not flying high right now. Holed up in a dilapidated Catskill resort he bought with other investors, Mr. Roberts, 56, has pleaded guilty to federal charges of submitting false documents and perjury, and is waiting be sentenced on June 17. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
But for several years, prosecutors say, Mr. Roberts pursued the most audacious of schemes: He tried to convince the state and federal governments that he was the descendant of a Mohegan chief and the leader of a lost tribe of American Indians around his hometown of Granville, N.Y.
The federal government says it is just not so, though Mr. Roberts, through his lawyer, continues to claim Indian roots. Being an Indian chief is the latest persona for a man who, over the years, has been an actor, a slate dealer, a country and western singer, a traveling evangelist and a small-town music impresario, acquaintances said.
Mr. Roberts's desire to be known as an Indian appeared to spring from purely financial motives, prosecutors and law enforcement officials said. Recognition from the federal government as a tribe would have entitled him and his associates to run a casino in the Catskills, but he never got that far.
Mr. Roberts even went so far as to submit to Washington a false genealogy, a doctored copy of an 1845 state census of Indians and a forgery of his grandfather's death certificate, all of which, he insisted, proved he was a descendant of prominent Indians on both sides. Federal genealogists who looked into his claims determined that he was actually a descendant of prominent European settlers.
But, in an elaborate scam, Roberts created an entire lineage of a fake native American clan spanning eight generations.
As chief of the western Mohegans he managed to persuade a federal judge to stop construction on a $5 million park project by claiming the Government was building on sacred ground.
In 2001 he persuaded Chicago investors to give him $900,000 to build a casino. Last year he sued the Governor of New York for 200 years of rent, claiming that he and state legislators were trespassing every time they went to work.
Next week he will be sentenced to up to 10 years in jail after admitting submitting false documents and perjury.
His bizarre tale started when Roberts claimed membership of the Mashantucket Pequot native Americans in Connecticut in 1996. The Mashantuckets refused, so he moved on to the Mohegans in the same state. When the Mohegans rebuffed him he started a tribe of his own.
He called them the western Mohegans, claiming they were descendants of those who stayed in the Hudson valley in the late 1700s, while others migrated.
He sent a petition to President Bill Clinton, showing how his great-great-grandfather, the Reverend George Smith, had been born to a native American woman, Cynthia Ticomwas. He then set out to make money from his false identity.
Many native Americans live in areas that are, theoretically, independent nations which can enter into treaties with the Government. Many tribes have made money from setting up casinos which are not subject to federal or state gaming laws.
Roberts is the first person to be prosecuted by the Department of the Interior for trying to deceive the tribal-recognition officials at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The sentence was a rebuff to federal prosecutors, who had argued that Ronald A. Roberts, who calls himself Chief Golden Eagle, should have received 4 to 5 years for trying to hoodwink federal officials in a quest for quick riches.
Mr. Roberts, who still maintains that he is a descendant of Indians even though the documents he presented were forged, had pleaded guilty in February to one count of perjury in a bankruptcy case and one count of filing false documents with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
For more on the subject, see The Facts About Indian Gaming.
Below: "Chief Ron" Roberts in a headdress from a Plains culture 1,000 miles from New York.