Wired: 2009 Part 2, A Book by Paul Caranci

Monday, May 29, 2017

 

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Olneyville New York System

Each week, GoLocalProv will publish a chapter of the book Wired: The Shocking True Story of Political Corruption and the FBI Informant Who Risked Everything to Expose It, by Paul Caranci. 

The book details how Caranci gambled his thirty-year political career, his reputation, and his family’s safety in his quest to restore good, honest government to a community that needed it most by going undercover with the FBI for 17 months to exposed corruption. 

Buy the book by CLICKING HERE

 

Olneyville New York System

One day in early March 2009 former Councilman Peter Simone, who was now working as a legislative page coordinator in the Rhode Island State Senate, approached me at the State House and asked my feeling on an application that the Olneyville New York System had pending before the Town Council. The North Providence location of the “famous” Rhode Island hot wiener restaurant was requesting a late night operating license so it could keep its drive-thru service open until 4:00 A.M. Current law allowed for such late-night closings only with a special permit granted by the Town Council. 

I had no objection to granting the license in that particular location. Greg Stevens owned and operated very successful hot wiener restaurants in the Olneyville section of Providence and on Reservoir Avenue in Cranston. There were never any incidents at those locations that would indicate there might be a problem in North Providence. Greg’s father opened the original restaurant in 1946 and it has become one of Rhode Island's classic landmarks. I told Peter that I never read of any complaints from the facilities’ neighbors and would be happy to support the granting of the extended hours license. Peter seemed pleased with my response. 

I took the opportunity to discuss with Zambarano the possibility of using this project as another potential to make money. He advised me that the owner was Peter’s relative through marriage and he wasn’t sure that we should be shaking him down. “But,” he said, “I’ll check with Joe.” At Jim’s urging I asked Zambarano if I should be out looking for opportunities or if that function should be left to him and the others. He responded, “Right now it’s just me and you.” 

Although feigning a lack of interest, the three councilmen were in fact perfecting their shakedown approach by developing innocuous language with which to convey their extortion demands. Zambarano called Burchfield to ask if he had spoken to Greg Stevens to inquire about “getting a piece of a ham sandwich,” a reference to the request for a bribe in exchange for Council approval of the late night license. Apparently he had, and he told Zambarano that Stevens was indignant. 

Hot wieners are a Rhode Island staple, though they are not all that popular in other parts of the country. Served with a generous topping of mustard, diced onions and a “special” meat sauce, the local delicacy sells for about $1.80. New York Times columnist Dan Barry, reported that the original restaurant location “became a singular Rhode Island place, where everyone gets along; The bookies, the cops, the college kids, the workers from the remnants of the neighborhood’s mills and factories where for some reason, a wiener goes best with a glass of coffee milk. Where customers ignore health-conscious additions to the menu. Where the cooks array a dozen steamed rolls ‘on the arm’ – literally – and fill them to order; it is a form of culinary performance art designed to set a health inspector’s heart aflutter.”

To Stevens however, the wiener is no more than a way to make a living and he has to work hard to earn it. In 2007 the family opened its third facility, this one on Mineral Spring Avenue in North Providence. Having been around the block a few times in his career, Stevens knew of the “North Providence reputation” and almost expected to be asked for something. It was just a matter of waiting long enough. 

 He wouldn’t have to wait too long. With his extended hours request going before the Council on April 7th, Stevens received a call from Burchfield suggesting that the two meet because he was having trouble rounding up the necessary four votes for the license. Stevens knew Burchfield as a customer of one of his other restaurants but didn’t feel comfortable meeting with him about the license, so he put it off a couple times. 

Having successfully avoided a meeting, Stevens arrived at Town Hall on April 7th expecting his license request to be granted. What he got instead was a lesson in corruption 101. He watched in shock as Douglas moved to postpone action until unspecified “unresolved issues” could be worked out. Zambarano second the motion acknowledging that several residents who lived near the restaurant expressed concern about the late-night operation. 

Stevens hadn’t been made aware of any issues from neighbors. The facility was located in a relatively commercial strip of Mineral Spring Avenue and his late-closing request should not have posed a problem for anyone. “What could the issues possibly be?” I thought to myself. Like Stevens, I too was taken aback by the action. Knowing that the three councilmen thought so highly of Peter Simone that they didn’t want to shake down the restaurant owner, I was perplexed that they would postpone the vote. Surely the Burchfield trio had the votes required for passage, I thought. Regardless of my curiosity, I supported the motion to defer action, however, because the facility wasn’t located in my Council district and it is customary to defer to the district representatives, the ones most likely to hear complaints from the abutting neighbors, on such issues.

Shortly thereafter, Stevens received a call from a friend asking if Stevens would meet him at his Providence office. Unbeknownst to Stevens, Burchfield and Zambarano had already arranged for this friend to convey the message that if Stevens wanted his license it would cost him $5,000. 

Stevens arrived at the designated office at the appropriate time and exchanged pleasantries with his friend. After a few minutes of venting about the way business was done in North Providence, the friend “held up five fingers across his chest, and mouthed the word: five,” Stevens told the NY Times reporter. A disbelieving Stevens said, “What? Say it out loud.” “They want $5,000 for the approval of your extended-hours request,” the friend said. Stevens was angry and surprised. He was also afraid. Not usually one to swear, Stevens expressed all of those emotions to his friend adding in some very colorful expletives. As he left the office he couldn’t help but laugh to himself. These people are out of their minds, he thought. 

Stevens knew his request would not be approved because of his refusal of the pay-to-play demand of the councilmen, but decided to attend the May Council meeting anyway to see “democracy in action.” With virtually no discussion, Zambarano moved to deny the license. Douglas quickly added the second and the motion passed unanimously. Just like that the license request from a very legitimate businessman was dead and the fact that the applicant was a relative of Burchfield’s close friend, Pete Simone, didn’t seem to matter at all. Neither did the merits of the proposal.

In January 2012, the Providence Journal featured a story about the “hot wiener” business in Rhode Island. I was not surprise to read that, of the three stores owned by Greg Stevens, only the one located in North Providence was experiencing financial difficulties. 

Getting to Know Me

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Wired

Jim believed, as Margie had once suggested, that if I socialized with the other Council members more often, they might open up to me. He asked me to try to arrange to go out for a drink with the three of them after the Council meetings. My crazy schedule and the extraordinary length of the Council meetings had made that difficult up to this point, and despite Zambarano’s assurances that the three of them weren’t going out after meetings, I suspected that they really were and that they were just excluding me from their plans much as they did in Florida. 

The summer months are routinely a time when Council business slows. Vacation plans and hot days tend to make officials hold off action on some of the more time consuming, but non-time-sensitive issues. Although I have had several recorded conversations, some that I thought were pretty revealing, Jim downplayed the significance of each, all the while pushing me to keep calling Zambarano. This just added to my frustration. 

That came to an end on October 14th however, when Zambarano, who must have sensed my frustration at his inability to get any additional payoffs, called and said that he and Burchfield wanted to meet me at Northside Creamery, an ice cream take-out on Mineral Spring Avenue owned by Zambarano. Once there, the two councilmen assured me that neither they nor Douglas were keeping any bribe payments from me and that I would be included in all their future deals if future bribes or extortion attempts were successful. 

The usually quiet Burchfield described the trio’s failed attempts to shake down Ashes and the New York System and guaranteed that there had been no other attempts by the trio of thieves. Burchfield said, “I want to prove something to you…there was one thing that you know about and that’s it. Christmas comes, you’ll know it.” The meeting lasted about 30 minutes and for the first time, Burchfield seemed willing to open up to me. 

In discussing future efforts to solicit bribes or extort an unsuspecting business community, he continued, “I just think it’s a very dangerous thing to do right now and everybody’s got to be careful…you know how it is out there. It’s not like it used to be. …Obviously it backfired a couple of times [referring to Ashes and the NY System] so I wouldn’t recommend any of us getting involved in anything like that unless you know them like a brother…” 

I pondered Burchfield’s words carefully. “It’s not like it used to be.” Did that statement imply that councilmen, both past and present, were involved in this same corrupt activity? I wondered how long it might have been going on, how negatively it must have impacted the town and my mind drifted back to those bitter disagreements I had with Ricci, Zambarano and others over liquor and entertainment licenses. “Disgraceful,” I thought!

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Paul F. Caranci is a historian and serves on the board of directors for the RI Heritage Hall of Fame. He is a cofounder of, and consultant to The Municipal Heritage Group and the author of five published books including two produced by The History Press. North Providence: A History & The People Who Shaped It (2012) and The Hanging & Redemption of John Gordon: The True Story of Rhode Island’s Last Execution (2013) that was selected by The Providence Journal as one of the top five non-fiction books of 2013. Paul served for eight years as Rhode Island’s Deputy Secretary of State and for almost seventeen years as a councilman in his hometown of North Providence. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Margie. They have two adult children, Heather and Matthew, and four grandsons, Matthew Jr., Jacob, Vincent and Casey.

 

Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s History of Political Corruption

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Buddy Cianci

Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci resigned as Providence Mayor in 1984 after pleading nolo contendere to charges of assaulting a Bristol man with a lit cigarette, ashtray, and fireplace log. Cianci believed the man to be involved in an affair with his wife. 

Cianci did not serve time in prison, but received a 5-year suspended sentence. He was replaced by Joseph R. Paolino, Jr. in a special election. 

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Joseph Bevilacqua

Joseph Bevilacqua was RI Speaker of the House from 1969 to 1975, and was appointed as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court in 1976.  It was alleged that Bevilacqua had connections to organized crime throughout his political career.  

According to a 1989 article that appeared in The New York Times at the time of his death:

The series of events that finally brought Mr. Bevilacqua down began at the end of 1984... stating that reporters and state police officers had observed Mr. Bevilacqua repeatedly visiting the homes of underworld figures.

The state police alleged that Mr. Bevilacqua had also visited a Smithfield motel, owned by men linked to gambling and drugs...

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Thomas Fay

Thomas Fay, the successor to Bevilacqua as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, resigned in 1993, and was later found guilty on three misdemeanor counts of directing arbitration work to a partner in his real estate firm, Lincoln Center Properties.  

Fay was also alleged to use court employees, offices, and other resources for the purposes of the real estate firm.  Fay, along with court administrator and former Speaker of the House, Matthew "Mattie" Smith were alleged to have used court secretaries to conduct business for Lincoln, for which Fay and Smith were business partners. 

Fay was fined $3,000 and placed on one year probation. He could have been sentenced for up to three years in prison. 

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Brian J. Sarault

Former Pawtucket Mayor Brian J. Sarault was sentenced in 1992 to more than 5 years in prison, after pleading guilty to a charge of racketeering.  

Sarault was arrested by state police and FBI agents at Pawtucket City Hall in 1991, who alleged that the mayor had attempted to extort $3,000 from former RI State Rep. Robert Weygand as a kickback from awarding city contracts.

Weygand, after alerting federal authorities to the extortion attempt, wore a concealed recording device to a meeting where he delivered $1,750 to Sarault.

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Edward DiPrete

Edward DiPrete became the first Rhode Island Governor to be serve time in prison after pleading guilty in 1998 to multiple charges of corruption.

He admitted to accepting bribes and extorting money from contractors, and accepted a plea bargain which included a one-year prison sentence.

DiPrete served as Governor from 1985-1991, losing his 1990 re-election campaign to Bruce Sundlun.

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Plunder Dome

Cianci was forced to resign from the Mayor’s office a second time in 2002 after being convicted on one several charges levied against him in the scandal popularly known as “Operation Plunder Dome.” 

The one guilty charge—racketeering conspiracy--led to a five-year sentence in federal prison. Cianci was acquitted on all other charges, which included bribery, extortion, and mail fraud.

While it was alleged that City Hall had been soliciting bribes since Cianci’s 1991 return to office, much of the case revolved around a video showing a Cianci aide, Frank Corrente, accepting a $1,000 bribe from businessman Antonio Freitas. Freitas had also recorded more than 100 conversations with city officials.

Operation Plunder Dome began in 1998, and became public when the FBI executed a search warrant of City Hall in April 1999. 

Cianci Aide Frank Corrente, Tax Board Chairman Joseph Pannone, Tax Board Vice Chairman David C. Ead, Deputy tax assessor Rosemary Glancy were among the nine individuals convicted in the scandal. 

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N. Providence Councilmen

Three North Providence City Councilmen were convicted in 2011 on charges relating to a scheme to extort bribes in exchange for favorable council votes. In all, the councilmen sought more than $100,000 in bribes.

Councilmen Raimond A. Zambarano, Joseph Burchfield, and Raymond L. Douglas III were sentenced to prison terms of 71 months, 64 months, and 78 months, respectively. 

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Charles Moreau

Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau resigned in 2012 before pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. 

Moreau admitted that he had give contractor Michael Bouthillette a no-bid contract to board up vacant homes in exchange for having a boiler installed in his home. 

He was freed from prison in February 2014, less than one year into a 24 month prison term, after his original sentence was vacated in exchange for a guilty plea on a bribery charge.  He was credited with tim served, placed on three years probation, and given 300 hours of community service.

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Joe Almeida

State Representative Joseph S. Almeida was arrested and charged on February 10, 2015 for allegedly misappropriating $6,122.03 in campaign contributions for his personal use. Following his arrest, he resigned his position as House Democratic Whip, but remains a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly.

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Gordon Fox

The Rhode Island State Police and FBI raided and sealed off the State House office of Speaker of the House Gordon Fox on March 21--marking the first time an office in the building has ever been raided. 

Fox pled guilty to 3 criminal counts on March 3, 2015 - accepting a bribe, wire fraud, and filing a false tax return. The plea deal reached with the US Attorney's office calls for 3 years in federal prison, but Fox will be officially sentenced on June 11.

 
 

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