Roche sentenced in federal funds theft

By Jason Hawk -

Robert Roche has been sentenced to four months in jail and must pay back the $77,000 in federal grants he stole.

A well-known local activist who at one time taught a course at Oberlin College, Roche pleaded guilty in May to embezzling money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In U.S. District Court on Aug. 29, judge Donald Nugent recommended the 71-year-old Roche serve his time in a medical facility as close to Ohio as possible, according to public documents.

The detention will be followed by three years of supervised release, the first four months of which will be home confinement with electronic monitoring.

Roche served as director of the American Indian Education Center in Cleveland. The grant money he stole was supposed to be used there for mental health and wellness programs, according to an indictment.

In addition, Roche was part of a movement that successfully convinced the Oberlin City Schools to stop using the Indians athletics mascot and instead adopt the Phoenix name.

He is also known for protesting the racist caricature of Chief Wahoo used by the Cleveland Indians.

At Oberlin College, he lectured on American Indian history as part of the for-credit, student-run Experimental College program.

The top post on the American Indian Education Center’s website, written in 2017 by president O.T. Williams, continues to voice support for Roche.

It calls Roche’s indictment “unfortunate and misguided” and said he dedicated more than 40 years of his life to helping Native American people by providing social services, community support, and socio-political activism.

“In addition to his accomplishments with the Center, we have witnessed his altruistic acts of providing food, transportation and shelter, and other types of support to individuals — Native and Non-Native — in need with his own personal funds and time. In a time when ‘alt-facts’ and rumors have overtaken human decency and responsibility, it is everyone’s duty to critically review all sides of controversial issues and make informed decisions instead of emotional reactions.”

The post further announces Roche’s retirement and successor, Sundance, also of Oberlin.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk