Scoundrels: Chapter 3 Part 2, Brusini Suffers Personal & Business Setbacks

Monday, January 09, 2017

 

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Each week, GoLocalProv will publish a chapter of the book Scoundrels: Defining Corruption Through Tales of Political Intrigue in Rhode Island, by Paul Caranci and Thomas Blacke

The book uses several infamous instances of political corruption in Rhode Island to try and define what has not been easily recognized, and has eluded traditional definition. 

The book looks at and categorizes various forms of corruption, including both active and passive practices, which have negative and deteriorating effects on the society as a whole. 

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Chapter 3, Part 2

Rodney M. Brusini Suffers Personal and Business Setbacks

In 1984, Rodney Brusini’s star was on the rise. By 1990, his “personal fortunes had been in decline. In the time leading up to this January morning in 1992, Brusini had plunged into debt, separated from his wife, been rushed to the hospital for a drug overdose, and come under criminal investigation.” On this Monday, Brusini was meeting at Heffies Restaurant in North Kingstown with his attorney, Richard A. Gonnella, Attorney General O’Neil, and J. Richard Ratcliffe, a prosecutor in O’Neil’s office, to tell them what he knew about payments for state contracts. “But Brusini would not easily surrender the secrets he purported to know. As the manager of the DiPrete insurance agency, he had earned a reputation as a shrewd businessman. He knew how to write an insurance policy.” Brusini told his audience that DiPrete was a control freak. To demonstrate his point, Brusini relayed the story of how DiPrete appointed him to run the State Racing and Athletics Commission in 1985. In this new position of authority, Brusini hired two men to collect urine specimens from the dogs at Lincoln Greyhound Park, for drug testing. When the Governor found out, he was furious and he had the two men fired. DiPrete then rehired them himself.”

Brusini was concerned about his role in the DiPrete investigation. He was willing to cooperate, but wanted to be used as a confidential source rather than a cooperating witness. He preferred not to have to testify. O’Neil wouldn’t agree. Brusini then suggested a proffer – a written statement of what he would testify to. Only after receiving assurances from O’Neil that what he said wouldn’t be used against him, Brusini offered his story.

Brusini and DiPrete were as close as two people could be. Friends called them “Siamese Twins.” DiPrete was closer only to his wife. Both men were elected to the Cranston School Committee in 1970 and each displayed a conservative approach to education. Even when they opposed each other for the position of Chairman, the two reached a compromise that had each presiding for half the term. In 1974, each won a seat to the City Council. But, in 1978, when Mayor James Taft withdrew from the race to tend to his law practice after the sudden death of his law partner, the Republican Party selected Ed DiPrete to replace him. Brusini had retired from government service a few years earlier and was now managing the F. A. DiPrete Agency. But while he left elected office behind, “Brusini remained a force in Cranston politics. He was DiPrete’s chief fundraiser.”

The meeting adjourned at Heffies, but continued at O’Neil’s home in Narragansett. Brusini denied any involvement in the selection of architects and engineers, but “did say, according to court records, that Governor DiPrete would ask him to ‘rate’ certain firms competing for state contracts, in terms of how much money they had contributed to the DiPrete campaign. Often, said Brusini, the firm contributing the most would get the contract.” O’Neil promised to consider what Brusini told him.

Before Brusini had a chance to leave, however, O’Neil dropped a bombshell on him. O’Neil told Brusini that DiPrete had recently given O’Neil a fax meant for Brusini. The document involved Robert Haig, an architect that was just awarded a big DiPrete state contract. Brusini was more angry than surprised at the thought that DiPrete would betray him. That, more than anything else, is what persuaded Brusini to cooperate.

At a follow-up meeting, O’Neil informed Brusini that Brusini had given them no evidence that could be used against him at their first meeting, but if incriminating evidence could be gathered independently, Brusini could still be charged. O’Neil’s real interest, however, seemed to be Haig and his involvement in the contract to renovate the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in 1989. “According to court records, investigators had spoken to other contractors, who had said that the DiPrete administration chose particular people to work on the Vets – including a Massachusetts engineer who’d been Dennis DiPrete’s college roommate. Around the same time, Robert Haig’s business records showed, the architect had given $52,000 to Brusini.” Brusini insisted, however, that the money was a loan from a friend, not a bribe, and that he needed it because, just having divorced his wife, he spent a lot of money on woman and trips to Florida.

O’Neil turned his attention to Frank N. Zaino, the DiPrete fundraiser and City engineer. He informed Brusini that as a cooperating witness, Zaino told them “that he had delivered money to Brusini from architects and engineers for state contracts.” Again, Brusini had nothing to offer.

Two weeks later, two state police auditors asked Brusini questions relating to the Rosemac Building in Providence. This was another Mollicone-owned building that was leased by the RI Department of Elderly Affairs during DiPrete’s administration. They asked about Brusini’s co-ownership of the building. Brusini denied being a partner. However, court records indicate that when Brusini was presented with a copy of his tax return that had been subpoenaed from Brusini’s accountant, indicating that Brusini was “a half owner, Brusini appeared shaken and refused to answer any more questions. The next week, testifying before a Grand Jury, Brusini again denied that he had been a Rosemac partner.” But investigators also found a letter from Brusini’s accountant discussing “the tax implications of Brusini’s desire to stay somewhat anonymous in the acquisition and the lease of this property. According to court records, the Attorney General’s Office would later draft a list of crimes that Brusini could be charged with. The list included perjury, extortion, and racketeering.”

By spring of 1992, while still working at the F.A. DiPrete agency, Brusini decided to cooperate and was meeting regularly with investigators and prosecutors. The meetings were long and sometimes became contentious. Brusini often complained about how DiPrete mistreated him. Lt. Mattos would frequently call him a “bagman,” a term that upset Brusini who described himself as a “fundraiser.” Brusini estimated that over the years he had raised over $4 million for DiPrete, raising $1.72 million in 1984 alone. He bragged about raising $350,000 in a single fundraising event that started at DiPrete’s home and ended at the Alpine Country Club.

DiPrete’s campaign finance team included Michael Doyle, his chief of staff, DiPrete’s legal counsel, public works director Joseph Pezza and purchasing director. Brusini sat at the helm. The group met regularly at the Mayor’s conference table to review lists of contributors, taking note of those with contracts nearing expiration. Those vendors would receive extra tickets. City employees later testified to the Grand Jury that, as Mayor, DiPrete personally selected contractors on a routine basis, a practice that continued when he became Governor. Brusini met with contributors at the F.A DiPrete insurance agency. “Everybody knew who Rod was,” engineer Frank Zaino told the Grand Jury, “Everybody.” Brusini would tell the Grand Jury that DiPrete wanted total control of everything that happened in the City. And through Brusini, he had it! For example, Donald Prout, a local architect, designed the new public library in Cranston even though DiPrete had never asked him for a campaign contribution. “But when Prout met with Brusini, Prout said, Brusini told him that the Mayor wasn’t pleased with the level of Prout’s campaign giving. ‘We’re businessmen,’ Prout recalled Brusini saying, ‘and we have big, big expenses. Without your participation, you know you’re not going to be considered for work. We have to work with the people who contribute and help us.’ " Prout refused and was cut off from City work and eventually, from state work as well. Others in the industry saw Prout as an example of why you had to contribute to the DiPrete cause. But, for each potential bidder that didn’t play ball, there were several more that did. “Brusini told the Grand Jury that during DiPrete’s first term as Cranston Mayor, in the late 1970’s, DiPrete instructed Brusini to meet with Anthony Capuano’s company. Capuano’s company held the city’s trash hauling contract. Capuano stopped by Brusini’s office and gave him an envelope with a contribution of $1,000 or $2,000 in cash, which, Brusini testified, he passed on to the Mayor. Brusini told the prosecutors that he did not include the money in DiPrete’s campaign finance report.” On another occasion, Brusini, Capuano and DiPrete went to Atlantic City. Capuano not only paid for all the rooms and meals, but also provided a roll of money for DiPrete to use at the tables. DiPrete, who said he never took a payoff from Brusini, denies that he was given gambling money, but defended the trip saying that the contract with Capuano, which saved the City $1 million, had already been signed before they went to Atlantic City. Brusini chalked it up to the political process. Brusini also told prosecutors that he had an arrangement with DiPrete regarding cash. He “said that the Mayor told him he could keep one-third of all cash contributions – money that went unreported in campaign records – which Brusini viewed as reimbursement for his expenses.”

According to Brusini, DiPrete also made money from zoning variances and exceptions. He controlled the Zoning Board so “if you ‘wanted to get something done in Cranston,’ you had to go to Brusini, who would then meet with DiPrete. Once, Brusini told the prosecutors, he collected about $12,500 from one developer and took the money to the Mayor, who gave him a third of it. Another time, Brusini testified, DiPrete accused him of having failed to turn over all the money he’d collected from a developer for a zone change. According to Brusini’s Grand Jury testimony, the confrontation involved $15,000 in cash that Brusini said he had delivered to DiPrete from Alfred Carpianato, a prominent local developer. The money, which Brusini testified was to secure zoning approval for an apartment complex for the elderly, had been made in two installments: $7,500 before the approval and $7,500 after. Brusini told the Grand Jury that after the second payment, DiPrete summoned him to City Hall: “He confronted me, saying that he had had a conversation with Freddy Carpianato, and he was led to believe that Carpianato had given me more money that I had actually turned over to the Mayor.’ ” The three eventually met and the matter was resolved with nothing more being said.

Brusini and the Attorney General failed to reach an agreement and eventually, by mid-1992, the investigators stopped talking to Brusini and prepared an indictment for perjury. With the threat of indictment hanging over him, Brusini started to cooperate and talks of immunity surfaced again. “That same month, Brusini quit his job at F. A. DiPrete, where he had worked for two decades. There was no going away party.”

In May of 1993, prosecutors were losing their patience with Brusini. They felt Brusini was jerking them around. The prosecutors again spoke of bringing perjury charges. But before they could make up their mind, Brusini gave them an ultimatum. Either protect his financial interests in the Metcalf Building, or he would stop talking. At issue was the state’s potential lease cancellation of space in the building. Prosecutors wouldn’t hear of it. On May 4, 1993, Brusini was very close to indictment.

The Department of Transportation Gets a New Director

If the goal is to direct state contracts, the Department of Transportation is the place to be and DiPrete's, choice to direct that Department was Joseph Pezza. DiPrete was advised against appointing Pezza by those closest to his organization. Pezza wasn’t the most qualified person for the post. In fact, officials from the Department of Transportation (DOT) referred to him as “Joe the Dope.” But the cries fell on deaf ears as DiPrete believed Pezza would be the most loyal. To help Pezza with the actual job duties, DiPrete created the position of Executive Director and appointed Senator John Chafee’s cousin, businessman Duncan H. Doolittle, to the post.

“Pezza made his agenda clear at his first staff meeting. According to Grand Jury testimony from Patrick J. Quinlan, who was the DOT’s chief legal counsel at the time, Pezza stunned the assembled DOT officials: ‘You guys have been running this place for quite a while. Now it’s our turn.’ Asked about this statement in an interview held some years later, Pezza responded: ‘I never remember that. Definitely not.’ As the head of the transportation department, Pezza sidestepped the formal contract-selection process, telling his subordinates to hire the contractors whom he designated. The officials objected. Doolittle confronted Pezza, shouting, ‘You’re going to jail,’ ” Quinlan told the grand jury.

None of this rattled Pezza. He knew he had the support of the Governor and was therefore able to overrule them. According to Quinlan, Pezza and two partners of a New York firm that had won the multi-million dollar bid to construct the Jamestown – Verrazzano Bridge, had lunch on the second floor of Camille’s Roman Garden, a classic restaurant in the heart of Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood, to celebrate the signing of a contract that had just taken place in the Governor’s office. After lunch, while walking down the stairs, “Pezza asked the contractors for campaign contributions. The contractors expressed surprise. Quinlan, the DOT legal counsel, testified that shortly after the luncheon he received a phone call from the contractor’s lawyer, in New York. The lawyer told Quinlan that the contractors didn’t want to start out on the wrong foot, but that they felt uncomfortable about Pezza’s request. Quinlan testified that he told the lawyer that it was a common practice in Rhode Island but that the New York firm had won the contract and shouldn’t feel obligated. Nevertheless, the contractors ultimately gave to the DiPrete campaign.”

Pezza turned to Brusini every time the Department hired a contractor for any purpose. In so doing, he shunned the DOT experts. “Brusini would later tell investigators that he considered only their political contributions, not their professional qualifications. Pezza, said Brusini, ‘knew the drill’ from their Cranston days.” According to the testimony of both Brusini and Pezza, since his days working at City Hall, Pezza would bring a list of bidders on contracting jobs to the F.A. DiPrete agency to ask for Brusini’s guidance. “Brusini took the list of bidders to the State House, where, he testified, he would brief DiPrete on how much money each contractor had given. DiPrete would go down the list, making check marks beside certain names, said Brusini. Then Brusini would deliver the list with the Governor’s choices back to Pezza.”

Michael Doyle, Governor DiPrete’s Chief of Staff, was surprised that even as Governor, DiPrete wanted to approve every contract, even those under $20,000. “I still want everything to come up to me,” DiPrete said. “Doyle told the investigators that Brusini met regularly with the Governor to update him on campaign contributors, and then DiPrete would tell his aides whom to choose for a project. The Governor’s favorite expression when designating his choices, as recalled by Doyle and several other aides, was ‘all things being equal.’ ” DiPrete felt that his selections were not only good policy, but good politics as well. According to Doyle, he would frequently say, “you can delegate duties, but not responsibility.”

But Pezza was becoming a political liability according to Duncan Doolittle who called him “the most incompetent man I’ve ever met, and stupid as well.” During his tenure at DOT, there were a number of “scandals involving his management and his hiring of contractors. Doolittle, who had publicly criticized Pezza, was consigned to a basement office in the State House, and then resigned. Pezza resigned eight months after he had begun. Some DOT staffers had T-shirts made up, proclaiming, ‘I survived Joe the Dope.’ ”

While Pezza was forced to resign because of the DOT scandals, DiPrete’s popularity with the voters remained high. The Governor survived the scandals, but Brusini did not. With the embarrassment of the investigation into DOT, DiPrete publicly “expressed dismay, and questioned the propriety of Brusini’s having communicated with Joseph Pezza.” Brusini was told by another DiPrete aide that he had to “take the heat for the Governor. After DiPrete’s 1986 reelection, Brusini resigned as campaign-finance chairman, saying he was burned out. He later told investigators that Governor DiPrete had hung him ‘out to dry’ ”He was certainly bitter. He had been DiPrete’s leading fundraiser since DiPrete started his political career. After acting like DiPrete’s brother, he was now being pushed aside in favor of the Governor’s son, and Dennis had made it clear that he didn’t trust Brusini. The Governor had already informed Zaino, another DiPrete fundraiser, that he thought Brusini was skimming. “From now on, the Governor told Zaino, deal with Dennis.”

Sullivan, Mollicone and Brusini --- Again!

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Governor DiPrete would describe his problem with Brusini as “a ‘periodic cooling’ between old friends”. Although Brusini continued his service on the campaign committee, he would liken his situation to having “political aids.” But according to Brusini’s testimony to the Grand Jury, his old partner, Joe Mollicone, and the Governor’s mistress would help him patch up his relationship with the Governor.

In 1985, Brusini, who was then DiPrete’s Finance Chairman, Mollicone and Joseph M. Cerilli, purchased “and renovated the old Providence Journal Building, a beautiful turn of the century structure in the heart of Downtown Providence, and were trying to rent space to the state. Cerilli later told the Grand Jury that he had approached a friend, H. James Field, Jr., the chairman of DiPrete’s political organization. Field, a successful businessman, had been a White House aide to President Gerald R. Ford and was a former chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party. Cerilli testified that he had promised Field ‘a substantial contribution’ to secure a lease with the state. Field promised to check it out, Cerilli testified, and later Field reported that ‘we can help you’ – for ‘a substantial contribution. One day, according to court records, Brusini said that Field pulled him aside after a State House meeting and advised him that the Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation would be moving into the old Providence Journal building. Field told Brusini to collect $25,000 from Mollicone and Cerilli ‘in green,’ Brusini told investigators.” Brusini had lunch with Mollicone and Cerilli at Capricios, a restaurant in Providence, and was given envelopes containing between $12,000 and $14,000 , which he gave to DiPrete. At a second meeting a week later, Brusini accepted more cash laden envelopes and gave those to DiPrete as well. (In 1993, Field defended his actions saying he did nothing wrong and would cooperate with the investigators. But during Grand Jury questioning months later, Field pleaded the 5th refusing to incriminate himself.)

Brusini was making DiPrete a lot of money, but he was always taken care of in the process. “According to court records, a contractor seeking state work landscaped the yard of Brusini’s water-view house in Jamestown at no charge; another contractor built him a deck. Brusini also became a ‘consultant’ to Wall Street underwriters seeking lucrative Rhode Island bond work. One paid him $2,000 a month, according to court records, another paid him $1,500 a month, even though, Brusini testified, ‘I was not an expert in the field.’ ” An executive at Bear, Stearns, a Wall Street investment underwriter, offered to raise $20,000 to $25,000 for DiPrete in exchange for getting a “foothold” in the state. After getting DiPrete’s permission, Bear, Stearns hired Brusini as a $2,000 per month consultant to keep them apprised of upcoming Rhode Island bond issues. Bear, Stearns denied any involvement and wrongdoing.

The Brusini And Mollicone Relationship Flourishes, And, Thanks To The Governor, So Does Brusini’s Bank Account

Brusini and Mollicone became friends and spent a lot of “leisure time” together. In 1990 Brusini reported an income of $175,000 with a net worth of $1.4 million. Still, he needed to borrow $500,000 from friends and relatives to keep his empire going. Mollicone started to partner with Brusini and Brusini secured state tenants for two of their buildings. “In 1988, Mollicone told Brusini that he was interested in buying the Rosemac Building, at 160 Pine Street and asked him to check with the Governor about getting a state tenant. Brusini became a silent partner, court documents show; according to Mollicone, Brusini wanted his involvement concealed until the lease was ‘signed, sealed and delivered.’ ” When Brusini asked DiPrete for a state tenant, DiPrete told him it would cost $20,000. Shortly thereafter the Department of Elderly Affairs moved into the building and Brusini delivered $10,000 cash to DiPrete. He never asked for the balance. Mollicone then asked Brusini to join with him in the purchase of the Metcalf Building, an ambitious venture; “a grand scheme,” according to Brusini. Partners in Pine Street Realty Trust, the owner of the Metcalf Building, included Robert Weisberg, a Fleet Bank executive to help secure financing, attorney Matt Marcello, a partner in Hinckly Allen Snyder & Comen, to do the legal work, Henry Fazzano, a well connected businessman, successful businessmen Edward Ricci, Joseph DiBattista, and …Rodney Brusini, because he could secure the building’s state tenant. Mollicone suggested the Department of Employment Security because he heard they were looking for new space. “’I won’t stand in your way’ Brusini recalled the Governor saying – provided the bid was competitive. Brusini said he pointed out to the Governor that the Pine Street Realty partners would be supportive of DiPrete’s reelection campaign. ‘How supportive?’ DiPrete asked, according to Brusini’s testimony.” Brusini promised that each partner could contribute between $5,000 and $7,000, well in excess of the $2,000 legal limit. Ultimately, the Pine Street Partners contributed about $30,000 to DiPrete, apparently enough, because the Department of Employment Security became the new tenant of the Metcalf Building.

While Brusini enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, collecting cars, joining exclusive clubs, and dining at expensive restaurants, he frequently had to borrow money. Mollicone lent him money to pay his Pine Street partnership expenses, and pay his son’s Cornell University tuition. Mollicone wondered if he was skimming from the cash that Mollicone was providing to pay DiPrete for the state leases telling the Grand Jury that he never fully trusted Brusini.

“After Rodney Brusini’s resignation, in 1986, as DiPrete’s finance chairman, it was more than money that brought him back into the Governor’s good graces, Brusini told investigators. Brusini testified that in the final years of the DiPrete administration – 1989 and 1990 – he helped the Governor carry on an extra-marital affair with one of DiPrete’s aides, Sandra C. Sullivan. After meeting the assistant Citizens Bank branch manager when DiPrete was Mayor of Cranston, he hired her for a high-level job at the state housing agency once he became Governor. After DiPrete gave her resume to the agency director, she became the only candidate to be interviewed for the position. Quiet at first, Sullivan’s position became the subject of controversy after “DiPrete’s Chief of Staff, Robert D. Murray, was indicted for having obtained an improper state mortgage. Sullivan had handled Murray’s loan application at Citizens. Murray was ultimately acquitted after Sullivan testified that she had made a mistake on the application. The Governor stood by Sullivan in the face of criticism by his political opponents. Her hiring, he said, reflected his desire to encourage employment of more women in state government. In 1988 Sullivan moved to the Governor’s staff, and the next year she was promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff, with a salary of $57,000 a year. From her office, adjacent to the Governor’s, she managed his schedule and the politically sensitive task of distributing low-number license plates, a coveted commodity in Rhode Island. Brusini testified that Sullivan also reviewed, with the Governor, campaign contributions from state vendors. Sometime after she came to work for the Governor, Brusini testified, Sullivan and DiPrete – both married – became romantically involved.” While Sullivan denied having an affair with DiPrete, two others, one a DiPrete fundraiser and the other a Sullivan friend, confirmed it according to The Providence Journal.

Their meetings were discrete and often took place at out-of-state hotels. Initially, Roger Messier, a DiPrete friend and fundraiser, would make the hotel arrangements. But as the frequency grew, DiPrete called Brusini. Among their favorite spots were the Days Inn in Mansfield, MA, the Boston Harbor Hotel or the Boston Marriott-Long Wharf, both waterfront hotels, or the Providence Marriott. “Brusini would drive to the designated hotel ahead of time, he testified, and register in his name; then he would pick up the Governor and drive him there. DiPrete would call Sullivan from the State House or from the car, Brusini told the Grand Jury, and tell her where to meet him. Usually, Brusini would walk through the lobby with DiPrete, in case DiPrete was recognized, it might seem strange, said Brusini, for the Governor to be floating around a hotel by himself. In the spring of 1989, DiPrete appointed Brusini to the state Board of Elections, a patronage prize that paid $36,000 a year and carried a 14-year term. Brusini would later tell prosecutors that the job was a reward – for his fundraising efforts and for his assistance with Sandra Sullivan.”

In his Grand Jury testimony, Brusini described one Saturday that really stood out in his mind. As he was driving the Governor back to Cranston from the Mansfield, MA hotel, he handed the Governor an envelope with $10,000 cash, a payment from Mollicone for the Department of Elderly Affairs lease at the Rosemac Building. He then dropped the Governor off at the F.A. DiPrete agency in Cranston. “A few days later, Brusini testified, when he saw DiPrete at the State House, the Governor recounted what had happened next: DiPrete had gone to Walt’s Roast Beef, next door to the DiPrete agency, and bought a sandwich; then he sat in his car and ate it. Driving home, he couldn’t find the envelope and realized he had thrown the $10,000 away. He hurried back to Walt’s and rummaged through the trash to find it. ‘He thought it was a pretty funny story,’ Brusini told the Grand Jury. ‘And I said, well, easy come, easy go, I guess’ ”

The Lavish Worlds of DiPrete and Brusini Begin To Crumble

Both Brusini and DiPrete would see their world crumble at the start of the new decade. Mollicone’s embezzlement of $13 million had initiated the banking crisis. The combination of that plus the ongoing investigation undermined Brusini’s investments especially his partnership holdings with the now missing Mollicone.

The weak economy and ethical questions involving his administration also hurt DiPrete. The Providence Journal had just run a damaging series on political favoritism at the Public Building Authority that began a shakeup of that organization.

By 1991, Brusini was divorced, had an enormous debt and was facing civil suits and a criminal investigation. He was also courting an employee of the Board of Elections where he held a position on the Board. His problems were overwhelming. One day early that year, Brusini’s friend, Henry Fazzano, found Brusini lying on his bed. He had apparently taken pills and alcohol and needed to be rushed to the hospital. Brusini denies having attempted suicide, but Fazzano wasn’t convinced.

By late 1991, as DiPrete began to hear whispers of the state’s investigation, he went to see Attorney General O’Neil in his office. “The Attorney General asked the former Governor how he would feel if Rodney Brusini were sitting in O’Neil’s office the next week. DiPrete replied, “I have nothing to worry about from Rod Brusini.”

Originally wanting to charge Brusini because of his lack of cooperation, by “the fall of ’93, the prosecutors’ sentiment had changed. J. Richard Ratcliffe, who had worked on the case since the beginning, argued that the state needed Brusini’s testimony in order to indict DiPrete; if the prosecutors charge Brusini, they risk losing him as a witness. Besides, it could take two years to bring Brusini to trial, a delay that could jeopardize the DiPrete case.” James W. Ryan, Chief of the Criminal Division, believed the DiPrete case was strong “because much of the money in question was easily traceable. The case, he said, was like a mosaic. There was a pattern of corruption dating back to DiPrete’s days in Cranston. Contractors had admitted making payoffs; they had gotten state work and the Governor had exercised tight control over the selection of state contractors, according to the testimony of Brusini and other witnesses. Brusini, for all his baggage, had been by DiPrete’s side for years. The cumulative weight of the evidence, Ryan suggested, would be enough to get a jury ‘over the bridge. On February 3, 1994 – shortly before Rodney Brusini received immunity and went before the Grand Jury that would be only the second to indict a former Rhode Island Governor, Ryan met with Brusini’ ” He emphasized the importance of telling everything he knew and not doing anything that would destroy his credibility as a witness. In March of 1994, DiPrete found himself waiting with his youngest son in a Providence law office, for word on whether the Grand Jury would indict him.

A Former Governor Goes on Trial, The First Since Thomas Wilson Dorr

Edward DiPrete laughed when his friend told him he was about to be indicted. Rumors had been circulating in political circles for a long time. DiPrete had heard them, but no action was ever taken. This day would be different. As DiPrete drove away from his luncheon, he received a call from his attorney. “The Attorney General’s office had called: The Grand Jury was voting on his indictment tomorrow.

The next morning, March 29, 1994, 18 men and women filed into a grand jury room in the Kent County Court House. It took the Grand Jury less than 4 hours to bring back 24 counts of racketeering, bribery, perjury and extortion against DiPrete and his son Dennis. On April 13, 1994, the two pleaded not guilty at their Superior Court arraignment. “Later that day, at state-police headquarters, in Scituate, the DiPretes were fingerprinted and photographed in the same dingy room used to process accused drug dealers and murderers.

The lines were quickly drawn between the accused and the accuser.” Jeffrey Pine, the new Attorney General, said that the indictments and the subsequent trial of a public figure would erase years of public corruption and restore accountability in the system. DiPrete’s attorney, Richard M. Egbert, for his part, said the government was relying on witnesses that were “convicted felons, disgruntled employees, people who have sold their souls.” Egbert was an experienced criminal defense lawyer, whose client list included Chief Justice Joseph A. Bevilacqua, mobsters Frank Selemme, Bobo Marrapese, Bobby Deluca, Gerard Ouimette and a host of doctors, lawyers, politicians and bank presidents. His expertise and success rate warranted a fee of $400.00 per hour. “’I don’t care how many guilty go free,’ said Egbert ‘as long as the system is working right.’ - even ‘the worst bum in the world is entitled to be prosecuted fairly and honestly.’ ”

Dennis DiPrete hired Robert Popeo, another Boston lawyer. The firm he helped build represented corporate giants such as Arthur Anderson, the international accounting firm that would be the subject of its own corporate scandal in the late 1990’s, and America Online. Popeo specialized in representing those accused of white-collar crimes. “A former federal prosecutor and magistrate, Popeo understood the legal system from all angles, and was considered a brilliant tactician.” Even so, after examining the evidence against his client, “he didn’t like the odds. The case against the DiPretes encompassed 20 years of wrongdoing. There were 75 witnesses, hundreds of hours of Grand Jury tapes, and close to a million pages of documents – enough to fill 600 cardboard boxes.” Popeo worried that the presumption of innocence would be lost, that the evidence would make it appear that “under Governor DiPrete, the entire state had been for sale. Popeo’s own surveys of potential Rhode Island jurors found a climate poisonous to the DiPretes.”

Popio and Egbert considered the options; plead not guilty, nolo or plea bargain, that is plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. But DiPrete maintained his innocence. Popio explained to Dennis just how bad things looked. “’Get real,’ he’d say ‘look what you’re up against.’ ‘I’m not your priest,’ he said, ‘I’m your lawyer.’ ” But there was just no convincing the DiPretes.

At one point, in December of 1985, with the trial just months away, Dennis started to weaken. He spoke to his father about the possibility of a deal. But the former Governor wouldn’t hear of it. “Dennis…there’s no way I’m going to admit to something I didn’t do.” The two argued about the issue again at a family function, but Edward DiPrete wouldn’t budge. The walls were crashing in and former Governor DiPrete was feeling the pressure. The Ethics Commission fined him $30,000 for steering contracts to his political friends. He was fighting the public’s perception that he caused the banking crisis. He lost his bid for re-election, was forced to go back to work at his insurance agency, and was feeling the sting of what he perceived as a betrayal by his former, loyal friend and fundraiser Rodney Brusini. He began gambling at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. He would listen to Brusini’s Grand Jury tapes and dispute each of his lies. To prove his point, he took a lie detector test and passed, but the result, as is the case in most states, was not admissible in court.

By May of 1996, the defense team had already cost the DiPretes $1 million. Egbert and Popeo disagreed on what the defense should focus on. Popeo focused on the 600 boxes of paper evidence, while Egbert felt the case would be made by examining the witnesses’ greed, lies, hidden motives and deals. The one thing they agreed on was that they would be able to exploit flaws in the state’s case. Now, all they needed to do was find them.

Attorney General Jeffrey B. Pine Assembles The State’s Prosecution Team

During his 1992 campaign against James O’Neil for attorney general, 37-year old Jeffrey Pine was hard on O’Neil for being soft on crime. “Rhode Island’s image as a corrupt state would not change, said Pine, ‘until we remove those who are responsible’ along with those ‘who haven’t done enough, or who haven’t done their job.’ ” As the race between O’Neil and Pine got close, it also got dirty. Pine attacked O’Neil for a “political” indictment of Cranston Mayor Michael Trafficante for soliciting campaign contributions from City vendors – a case that grew out of the case against DiPrete. Pine questioned the timing of the indictment being issued just one month before an election.

Just after the inauguration, prosecutor Richard Ratcliffe sent Pine a confidential 27-page memo detailing the case against the DiPretes. He felt the case against Dennis was stronger than that against his father because of the testimony of Piccoli and Zaino. Most prosecutors within the attorney general’s office, however, felt the high profile case was too complicated; too overwhelming for an office the size of this one to handle. “Several prosecutors said that the DiPrete investigation had gotten out of control – like an underground fire, said one, consuming precious time and resources. Another lawyer called the case ‘a labyrinth of detail, but not a lot of credible people.’ Indeed, Ratcliffe, in the memo to Attorney General Pine, wrote that the investigators suspected their potential star witness, Rodney Brusini, of having lied about a $52,000 loan from a state contractor.”

Michael F. Burns Is Rehired To Lead the DiPrete Investigation

To lead the case, Pine rehired Michael F. Burns. Burns, “a bold young prosecutor who loved taking on the really bad guys,” was fired and banished from the Attorney General’s office by O’Neil in 1989 after O’Neil questioned Burn’s judgment. Burns was quick to support Pine’s election campaign and it now looked as if he might be appointed to head the AG’s Criminal Division. After graduating New England School of Law in 1983, Burns went to work as a “prosecutor and rose quickly through the ranks. He developed a command of the rules of evidence, an ability to think on his feet, and a dogged style in breaking down evasive witnesses. Commenting on Burns' tenacity with witnesses, a judge once remarked that only his wife could carry on an argument longer than Burns.

Within a few years Burns had moved into a showcase job in the Attorney General’s office, prosecuting organized crime cases. In 1987, at the age of 29, he scored one of his biggest triumphs, a murder conviction of Bobo Marrapese. Relying on confessed criminals as witnesses and going up against the prominent Boston defense lawyer Richard Egbert, Burns persuaded a jury to convict Marrapese of a murder that had taken place 12 years earlier.”

That same year, Burns also led the Peter Gilbert case in which a plea bargain was struck that allowed Gilbert to be held in the custody of Providence Police for the full term of his ten-year sentence in exchange for his testimony that could have led to the indictments of several mobsters, including New England crime boss Raymond Patriarca. But Gilbert was treated more as a friend of the police than their prisoner. The state spent a total of $160,000 on Gilbert’s incarceration. Expenses included the refurbishing of his police-station apartment, eight trips to Florida to see family, liquor, drugs, jewelry and cars. “It all came apart in June 1988, when Gilbert, at age 43, died of a heart attack after a traffic altercation. He was alone, driving to Connecticut to go skydiving, with 19 packets of cocaine in his parachute bag.” The investigation, conducted by a special mayoral commission, determined that the state “had been bamboozled by Gilbert, ‘an artful manipulator, skilled in the deception of his fellow man. It appears,’ the report concluded, ‘that Gilbert received far greater benefits from his bargain than did the State of Rhode Island.’ ” In 1989, Burns resigned from the office of the Attorney General saying he felt that he became the scapegoat for the Gilbert affair.

Jeff Pine accused his political opponent, Jim O'Neil of being soft on crime. Pine himself would later  be questioned about the light sentence imposed on the DiPretes as a result of a plea agreement with Pine's office.

During the time that Burns was in private practice, he was retained to represent a former DiPrete aide who was being questioned as part of the “jobs for sale” scheme during the DiPrete administration. Investigators spoke to the aide briefly in 1992; it appeared they were more interested in scaring him. In 1993, he was questioned again, but denied any quid-pro-quo in the jobs that he awarded, despite having solicited some of them for donations to the DiPrete campaign. He was never questioned again.

Prosecutor Steven Murray sent a memo to Pine disclosing the potential conflict. He didn’t want anything to discredit the case against DiPrete. While Richard Ratcliffe had envisioned himself as taking the lead in the DiPrete case, Judge Robert D. Krause seemed to dash those hopes when he berated Ratcliffe and the state’s case against Laura Donatelli who had been charged with obtaining money under false pretenses in her dealings with Michael Piccoli. Krause indicated that he felt the state brought the case against Donatelli as a means of getting her cooperation in the DiPrete case. Donatelli was acquitted after a three-day trial, but later pled guilty to a related charge of filing a false document.

DiPrete Co-Prosecutor Joseph DeCaporale Carries Some Baggage of His Own

Pine asked another member of his team to help out on the DiPrete case. Joseph L. DeCaporale, Jr., according to Pine, brought a wealth of knowledge to the case. What Pine didn’t know is that he also brought to the case a private censure by the Rhode Island Supreme Court for professional misconduct.

In 1992, DeCaporale became a prosecutor in Attorney General O’Neil’s office. He had hoped to become a judge one day. He was forty-eight years old, and looking to begin life anew. Life had thrown him many curve balls. He worked his way back from “two bankruptcies, a divorce, hospitalization for ‘major depression,’ and complaints from clients.” Now, just as he was about to help prosecute the DiPrete case, he learned that the Supreme Court was scheduling confidential hearings regarding a complaint that DeCaporale had stolen money from a former client. “DeCaporale had signed the client’s name on a $21,000 check received in settlement of a police-brutality lawsuit, and kept the money. DeCaporale said he had endorsed the check and kept the money, as his legal fee, with the client’s permission.” So, instead of beginning a new, high profile, criminal case, DeCaporale was suspended without pay by O’Neil.

Despite complaining that he could never make any money practicing law, he loved the courtroom. In court, he was the “voice of righteousness and indignation – seeking to generate sympathy for his client, pointing the finger at the accuser, the police, and the prosecutors. He had a presence, said one lawyer, a knack for understanding what was important to a jury.”

DeCaporale learned from the best. After graduating law school, he worked with John F. Cicilline, the father of future Providence Mayor and RI Congressman David Cicillini, and Joseph A. Bevilacqua, a future Supreme Court Chief Justice, “in a thriving criminal-defense practice that featured an array of mobster-clients, including the New England Mafia boss, Raymond L. S. Patriarca.” He also worked part-time as a lawyer for the Legislature and as a public defender, a position that he eventually took on full-time. When money got tight, he left his $23,000 position with the state and re-entered private practice with Cicilline and Bevilacqua.

In February of 1971, DeCaporale and another lawyer were accused of embezzling at least $4,000 from a receivership they had been involved with. Judge Ronald R. Lagueux called the two lawyers “interlopers.” DeCaporale denied receiving any money and blamed the other lawyer for the problem. In a settlement, however, “DeCaporale and the other lawyer agreed to repay $4,000 to the receivership, to settle a lawsuit they said would have cost them more to defend.”

While with Cicilline he took part in the defense of high profile organized crime figures. Cicilline, meanwhile, was getting close to the clients he was defending. He said it was necessary to “socialize with ‘these people,’ referencing his mobster clients. But these relationships were beginning to draw the attention of law enforcement. In 1978 Cicilline hired as a paralegal Mafia underboss Nicholas Bianco, freshly paroled from federal prison. The next year, Cicilline, who had split from Bevilacqua, opened an office with DeCaporale on Federal Hill’s Atwells Avenue. Later, a few other lawyers joined them.” Cicilline rented space in a building owned by crime boss Raymond L. S. Patriarca, whose vending machine business was located right across the street. On the wall hung photos of Patriarca and his son, the man who would take over as boss of the crime family upon his father’s death. He and DeCaporale would routinely go for drinks with their mob clients.

All this activity gave reason for the FBI to plant bugs in the law office as part of their case against Patriarca and Bianco. While there was nothing damaging on the tapes regarding DeCaporale, the incident created enough anxiety for him to leave Cicilline and focus his practice on civil work from a new East Side office.

By 1988, following his divorce, bankruptcy and legal problems, he decided to quit the practice of law and become an insurance agent. DeCaporale wrote insurance policies and was fairly good at it. One year, he actually won a trip for two to Puerto Rico because he reached his sales quota. But he just wasn’t happy outside the courtroom and he eventually returned to the practice with the Public Defenders Office.

In 1992, DeCaporale, the man who defended and befriended mobsters, finally landed a job in the Attorney General’s office as a prosecutor. “Attorney General O’Neil, who had previously been unwilling to put DeCaporale in charge of organized-crime cases, hired him because he needed an experienced trial lawyer to help clear a backlog of cases.” The move from criminal defense lawyer to public defender to state prosecutor may be unusual, but for DeCaporale it meant more money and a good possibility for advancement. The celebration lasted only one month before O’Neil suspended him when O’Neil learned of the disciplinary charges against him.

The latest charges represented the second time in fifteen years that he was before the disciplinary board. He pled his case and his attorney, Stephen Famiglietti, suggested that the disciplinary board give DeCaporale the benefit of the doubt because “his entire career is hanging in the balance…”After conferring with Famiglietti, who said that DeCaporale would probably not be disbarred or suspended from the practice of law, O’Neil decided to allow DeCaporale to work as a prosecutor while he awaited his fate. After the election in which Pine defeated O’Neil, a mutual friend put in a good word with Pine and DeCaporale was assigned to Special Prosecutions. Later in 1993, a three-member panel of lawyers recommended that the complaint against DeCaporale be dismissed. The full Board, however, disagreed and felt that some type of disciplinary action was in order. The outcome of the case now rested with the RI Supreme Court. In December, “DeCaporale pleaded for mercy before the state’s five highest judges. Tearfully, DeCaporale said that he should have acted differently. What he did, he said, was a mistake, an isolated occurrence. He said that he should have gotten his client’s permission in writing, or driven to Burrillville to get the client’s signature. Ultimately, there were no public sanctions, but the Court did issue a private censure. While the client never collected any money, the client’s brother – another former client – sued DeCaporale for misappropriating money in other instances. DeCaporale agreed to pay $17,500 over a five-year period so that the case would not result in a trial that might jeopardize his career.

Pine’s Staff Reorganization Puts The DiPrete Case In Jeopardy

DeCaporale was assigned to the DiPrete case, but at least one member of the prosecution’s team wasn’t pleased. Ratcliffe felt, that after four years of working on the case, he was being pushed out. This was not Pine’s only move. In a reorganization that surprised most of the 100 member staff, Pine removed James Ryan as head of the criminal division and replaced him with Michael Burns. DeCaporale was promoted to head of Special Prosecutions to replace Burns. In May of 1995, not wanting to deal with the internal office politics, Richard Ratcliffe resigned his position as a prosecutor, one that he had held for seven years. “In retrospect, some members of the Attorney General’s office saw the moment as a critical event in the history of the DiPrete case. Ratcliffe’s resignation, they said, took ‘the detail guy’ out of the equation: the one prosecutor who had been there from the beginning, the person who knew the complex case best.”

 

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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.
 

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Thomas Blacke has devoted his life to marketing, media and public relations and currently runs his own marketing, PR and security consulting firm. He has worked on many high level political campaigns, served as a lobbyist, and has held leadership positions in the local Democrat Party. Thom is also a professional magician and escape artist who holds multiple Guinness® World Records for escape artistry with ten world records in all. Blacke is the Editor/Publisher of an international magazine and the co-creator of a TV reality show. This is his seventh book.

 

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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