Scoundrels: Chapter 3 Part 3: Judge Domenic Cresto & Pre-Trial Shenanigans

Monday, January 16, 2017


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Paul Caranci

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. 

Buy the book by CLICKING HERE

Chapter 3, Part 3

Judge Domenic Cresto & Pre-Trial Shenanigans

It was now August 24, 1995, and Judge Cresto was listening to pre-trial motions from the seven lawyers who were preparing to either defend or prosecute the DiPretes. Defense lawyers were requesting, in addition to the 600 boxes of documents and 200 volumes of Grand Jury testimony, all exculpatory evidence – “the evidence of any crimes committed by the state’s witnesses, and any contradictory statements that might have been made to the authorities that would cast doubt on the witnesses’ testimony. The DiPrete lawyers also wanted to know of any ‘promises, rewards, or inducements’ that prosecutors had offered their star witnesses.” In Rhode Island, prosecutors are required to supply this type of information to the defense in order to ensure a fair trial. Robert Popeo believed that the state had not turned over all their information. Popeo, giving the state the benefit of the doubt, chalked it up to sloppiness on the part of the state. Bruce Astrachan, the man who filled Ratcliffe’s spot on the prosecution team, responded, the defense lawyers “‘have the testimony of all the conspirators. They have all the documents relied on in the testimony, and there should be no surprise to them as to what may come out at trial, Your Honor.” He continued, “I’m not sure what the court could order the state to deliver to them, in that they have everything.” Popeo protested that by giving the defense 600 boxes of evidence, there was no way they could find the document they needed. “‘If the government knows where it is,’ said Popeo, ‘they should tell us, not play games.’ ”

Joseph DeCaporale insisted the information had been provided and the state shouldn’t have to do the defense lawyer’s work. But Judge Cresto disagreed. He “determined it should not be left to the DiPrete lawyers to go through every scrap of the state’s evidence for relevant information; he assigned the prosecutors the task of extracting the needles from the haystack.” Astrachan argued that statements taken from witnesses by a prosecutor would be considered “work product.” notes and memos reflecting legal strategies, and to those, the defense is not entitled. Cresto in response ordered the files turned over to him so the judge, not the prosecution team, would decide what the defense could have. DeCaporale was unmoved. He believed that the defense motion was posturing.

Astrachan was a new member of the DiPrete prosecution team and had only been working as a prosecutor for a year. So, despite signing his name to numerous documents indicating that the DiPrete team had everything, he was really relying on the words of Joseph DeCaporale and Michael Burns. It wasn’t until sometime after the pre-trial hearing in August of 1995, about 3 months after being assigned to the case, that Astrachan learned otherwise. That’s when he, Burns and DeCaporale met in a conference room of the state-police Financial Crimes unit, the “warehouse” for the DiPrete documents. “Gina Merandi, a state police employee in charge of the records, would later testify that she had hauled in 10 cardboard boxes for the three prosecutors to review. The boxes contained the work files of the original DiPrete investigators. The three men spent almost the entire day reviewing the boxes and taking out those documents they believed they would have to give to Judge Cresto. Burns later testified that he didn’t stay that long and that he allowed DeCaporale and Astrachan to do most of the work. But Merandi recalled that the men reviewed information damaging to Rodney Brusini, the state’s star witness. “The information could be dynamite in the hands of the DiPrete lawyers, enabling them to attack inconsistencies in Brusini’s story and to argue that he had agreed to testify against Edward DiPrete to avoid a perjury charge…When they had finished, many documents remained that would not be turned over. Among them were files concerning Brusini – including information bearing on whether he had committed perjury.”

Burns was the man assigned to question Brusini. He should have been aware of every document that related to his witness. But he had other things on his mind. His new position was very demanding and pulled him in several different directions at the same time. He was going through a very messy and public divorce with Patricia Nugent Burns, his wife and office aide. Patricia, in a drunkard state on May 18, 1995 called 911 and reported an assault on her by Burns. Johnston police eventually dropped the case, but the tape of the 911 call was played on a local TV station, something that proved very embarrassing for Burns.

While Burns was responsible for questioning Brusini, it was DeCaporale who had the responsibility of complying with Judge Cresto’s order to turn over all evidence to him or the DiPrete lawyers. Egbert was right to be suspicious. DeCaporale had a history of withholding evidence in trials. In a case involving real estate developer James Procaccianti and his uncle, a case in which they were charged with defrauding the former Marquette Credit Union of $500,000 in loan money, he failed to turn over evidence that significantly weakened the case against Procaccianti. The charges were eventually dismissed when the case went to trial. Egbert suspected that the state was withholding something about the only man who had testified that he delivered kickbacks directly to the Governor – Rodney Brusini. “Through private investigators’ digging into Brusini’s business dealings, Egbert concluded that Brusini had pocketed the alleged kickback money; then, with the police closing in, Brusini had implicated DiPrete to save himself.” The state had turned over documents regarding Brusini’s statements from 1992 and 1994, but he had received nothing from the year 1993. Egbert wondered if Brusini made statements that year that might be helpful to the defense. Dennis DiPrete’s lawyer was also checking into the background of Frank Zaino, the chief witness against his client. Popeo, like Egbert, would argue that Zaino kept the money he had claimed to have given Dennis DiPrete. Popeo was interested in the lavish lifestyle that Zaino lived; one that included spending money on a condominium in the Caribbean, high performance cars, and “a younger woman who was not his wife. Popeo was especially intrigued by $150,000 that Zaino had kept in banks in St. Marten and Florida. Zaino told the prosecutors that he had won the money gambling, but Popeo said that his private investigators could find no such evidence – not at casinos at Foxwoods, Atlantic City, or Las Vegas; not at racetracks throughout New England; not even with underworld bookies.”

As the trial approached in 1996, Popeo felt the outcome of the case was still very much in doubt. He was unable to find the “smoking gun” needed to destroy the state’s case. “Then, on the eve of the trial, in May 1996, the prosecutors gave the DiPrete lawyers some documents that they said they had just found – including previously undisclosed statements from Brusini and Zaino. (The prosecutors would later point to their provision of this material to underscore their contention that they had not deliberately withheld evidence) The two defense lawyers immediately filed another motion for discovery. In response, the state handed over even more documents. But still missing was the document showing the state’s agreement for immunity from perjury for Brusini. Astrachan insisted that the defense had everything. The debate came to a head during a July 25, 1996 conference call that resulted in Judge Cresto again ordering all prosecution documents turned over to him for review. Gina Merandi, the state police custodian of the records, informed DeCaporale that there were still some 30 boxes of material in her custody. Defense lawyers were overwhelmed at what they were presented with a few days later when they arrived at the Attorney General’s office. “The boxes contained 68,000 pages of documents; just to copy them would cost $20,000.

On August 16, 1996, Popeo and Egbert asked Judge Cresto to dismiss all charges on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct. Once again, the prosecution denied withholding evidence and said that they had handed over all documents crucial to the case. The defense said the new material contained the first clues that Brusini had lied to a Grand Jury – when he denied any ownership interest in a building he had rented to the state, and that he had been given an undisclosed promise of immunity by the state. “Brusini’s lie, and the state promise not to prosecute him, came to overshadow the question of the guilt or innocence of former Governor Edward D. DiPrete and his son Dennis L. DiPrete.”

On October 21, 1996, Judge Cresto began the hearing on the defense motion to dismiss the case. Kathleen Hagerty was assigned to represent the prosecution at the hearing. Hagerty had a reputation for working hard to prepare for her cases. She had won some major convictions including a case against a former Pawtucket special prosecutor, Frank Mattera, of soliciting a bribe to fix a drunk driving charge. But, she had earned some critics in the process. Four judges told Judge Joseph F. Rodgers, Jr., that “Hagerty was self-righteous and pushy – both with opposing lawyers and with witnesses.” On this day, she chose to argue that Judge Cresto had no right to even be hearing this motion. “The state, she said, denied any prosecutorial misconduct. But even if the prosecutors had ‘secreted evidence,’ she said, ‘the remedies are quite limited. And in fact Your Honor may not impose sanctions’ to penalize the prosecutors.”

The State Attempts To Make Ratcliffe Take The Hit For Withholding Information

A few days before, Richard Ratcliffe had a lunch meeting with Hagerty and DeCaporale. During that meeting, both lawyers pressed Ratcliffe about the immunity deal he made with Brusini. They asked Ratcliffe if he had ever informed anyone else within the office about the deal. Ratcliffe insisted that he had, but in later testimony said that as a result of the questioning, he had gotten the clear impression that he was going to be used as a scapegoat and that everyone else would deny having any knowledge of the deal.

The defense called their first witness, Brusini lawyer, Richard A. Gonnella. He testified that his very first action was to insist on an immunity deal against his client for any perjury charges that might be pursued. He explained that he worked out such an arrangement with Ratcliffe and told DeCaporale about it. While Gonnella was still on the stand, state investigators called Ratcliffe and asked if he could come to the courthouse. He was the only person that could verify or refute what Gonnella was saying. Ratcliffe insisted he couldn’t get to the courthouse. A few minutes later, the investigator walked into Ratcliffe’s office and handed him a subpoena. Ratcliffe arrived in the courthouse and waited. He was eventually allowed to leave. The next day he showed up at the Attorney General’s office to review documents for his testimony. While there, Pine and his Deputy, Thomas M. Dickinson, appeared and asked Ratcliffe about the immunity deal that had been arranged for Brusini. They were splitting hairs about whether Ratcliffe had made a promise or offered a reward or inducement. To Ratcliffe, there was no difference. However, Ratcliffe did tell Hagerty that James Ryan had notes from the meeting at which they discussed immunity that would show that Pine and Dickinson were in attendance. Even though he intended for Hagerty to use that information to turn the notes over to DiPrete’s attorneys, the AG’s office waited 10 more days before telling them about the notes.

Ratcliffe testified that before he left the Attorney General’s office, he walked Astrachan through all the DiPrete files and recently called him to advise him to “amend the state’s written declarations to reflect the Brusini perjury promise.” Astrachan denied that Ratcliffe ever told him that. Astrachan was on the witness stand for 6 days; being grilled first by Egbert and then by Popeo. “Suddenly, it seemed, it was the good guys who were on trial.” It was Astrachan’s signature that appeared on most of the signed documents indicating that all documents had been turned over to the defense. He was now saying that he hadn’t read all the material, he simply signed the papers “’as a matter of convenience. Astrachan was actually admitting that he and his fellow prosecutors had erred in swearing to the court that they had turned over all the evidence. And, he said, the prosecutors had been wrong to attack the DiPrete lawyers as incompetent liars for having said that evidence had been withheld.’ ”

Astrachan was getting destroyed on the stand. DeCaporale would later say “that he never should have let ‘the kid’ sign the papers.” Hagerty was concerned about how the defense lawyers were making him look. During a sidebar, she expressed concern to Judge Cresto that the lawyers were setting Astrachan up for disciplinary action.

But there would be no rest for Astrachan. Popeo took the next shot, getting him to admit that the AG knew about the bank accounts that Frank Zaino, the key witness against Dennis DiPrete, opened in his children’s names to hide money from his wife during the divorce. Even though the asset-reporting forms for divorce cases are signed under oath, the AG’s office took no action against him and never notified the Family Court.

It was the testimony of Michael Burns, though, that really set the prosecution’s case on its ear. Burns took with him to the stand “a detailed memo that summarized the DiPrete investigation. The memo had been written by the original prosecutor on the case, J. Richard Ratcliffe, and given to Jeffery Pine when Pine succeeded James O’Neil as Attorney General, in 1993. When Pine took office, Brusini was seeking immunity for various crimes, but no deal had been struck. ‘We were prepared to indict Brusini for perjury and ethics violations,’ Ratcliffe’s memo said. Prosecutor Burns, under questioning by DiPrete lawyer Richard M. Egbert, conceded that he and Attorney General Pine had both read the memo in January 1993. But Burns said he’d forgotten about it until he rediscovered it, just the week before. When DeCaporale had learned about Burn’s memo just moments before Burns took the stand, he said, “This is going to look bad.” Burns was on the stand for 11 days spread over several weeks but became ill before completing his testimony. He was replaced by James Ryan who testified “Pine and his prosecutors had discussed the possibility of offering Rodney Brusini immunity from perjury charges.”Burns eventually returned to the stand, but things didn’t get any better for the prosecution. At one point Burns testified that he had just recently found out that there were several boxes of audiotapes of Brusini’s Grand Jury. He eventually handed over 20 tapes to Judge Cresto. Ratcliffe, however, testified that he told Burns about the tapes and instructed him to turn them over to DiPrete’s lawyers. On another day, the court was told of 11 spiral bound notebooks of notes taken by Peter Blessing, one of the original investigators. Gina Merandi found them in a file cabinet drawer. Merandi testified that Astrachan lied when he said that the DiPretes lawyers now had all the evidence to which they were entitled. She also told about Burns, Astrachan and DeCaporale culling through evidence instead of providing everything to Cresto. For her efforts, she was called to state police headquarters where she was read her rights and told she was a suspect in the crimes of obstructing justice and perjury relating to her finding the 11 notebooks. She was never charged, but she was removed from the DiPrete case.

Cresto was not happy about what he was hearing. He “knew that the public expected the DiPretes to stand trial. Their indictment, in 1994, for bribery, racketeering, extortion, and perjury represented one of the biggest public-corruption cases in Rhode Island history. The thought of dismissing corruption charges against a former governor before a jury could hear the evidence did not sit well with the judge. Moreover, Cresto’s earlier dismissal of part of the DiPrete case had been overturned by the state Supreme Court. Yet, in failing to turn over the evidence, the prosecutors had violated the judge’s orders, the rules of the Rhode Island courts, and the U.S. Constitution. And that was something Dominic Cresto was not going to tolerate.”

Pine Removes Burns, DeCaporale and Astrachan From The Case, But Can’t Stop The Judge  From Ruling For The Defense

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Attorney General Violet

“On February 17, 1997, Pine announced he was replacing the prosecutors in the DiPrete case. Pine said he was making the change because ‘it is clear’ that the DiPrete lawyers may try to call prosecutors Michael Burns, Joseph DeCaporale, and Bruce Astrachan as witness in the trial, which would prevent them from serving as advocates for the state. The new prosecution team would be Assistant Attorneys General J. Patrick Youngs III, Michael J. Stone and Special Assistant Attorney General Kathleen M. Hagerty.”

March 11, 1997 turned out to be the last day of the 32-day pretrial hearing. Cresto asked his court secretary to type up the 38-page decision. While not ruling on the DiPretes' guilt or innocence, Cresto wrote, “The manner and magnitude of the prosecutorial misconduct found by the court to exist in this case has not only resulted in substantial prejudice to the defendants, but has the effect of eroding confidence in the criminal justice system.” He noted that the state had “repeatedly violated his orders, the state-court rules, the U.S. Constitution, and their own agreements with the DiPrete lawyers to give them critical pieces of evidence. ‘The situation raises the alarming specter that the system works only if an accused has the financial resources to make independent investigation prior to trial to ferret out misconduct, to endure due process. ‘Dismissal of the case,’ Cresto wrote, was the only way ‘to impress upon the prosecution that it cannot be allowed to benefit from having acted in a manner that is less than constitutional and ethical in the pursuit of convictions.”Just like that, the case against the DiPretes seemed to be over.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court Weighs In On The DiPrete Case As A Former Prosecutor Commits Suicide

Attorney General Pine saw it as his final chance to bring Governor DiPrete and his son Dennis to trial. “And so the accused and their accusers, the lawyers, the families, the investigators, and the curious gathered on Wednesday morning, November 12, 1997, for the oral arguments in the prosecutors’ appeal of the dismissal of the corruption case against the DePretes.” As the Justices took their seats, the arguments began.

It had taken four years to reach this point and now all Michael Burns could do was stand, arms folded, in the rear of the courtroom. It was apparently more than he could bear. “Either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning of the week before Thanksgiving, the Chief of the Attorney General’s Criminal Division walked into the snow covered woods near his secluded Johnston home and fired a single gunshot into his head. Thirty-nine year old Burns was dead from suicide.

The Supreme Court, based on the arguments just presented, would decide if the DiPretes would go on trial. “Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger, 77, was keenly aware of the public’s cynicism toward government, having served through scandals that had toppled his two predecessors, Joseph A. Bevilacqua and Thomas F. Fay. When Weisberger succeeded Fay, in 1993, he had pledged to restore public confidence in the Rhode Island Judiciary.” He wanted desperately to do that when he suggested that he and his associates “reinstate the charges, so that the DiPretes could go to trial. He argued that Superior Court Judge Dominic F. Cresto had had no authority to dismiss the case.” Weisberger didn’t want to punish the people of Rhode Island because of mistakes that may have been made by the state; mistakes that were eventually corrected, ultimately causing no harm to the defense team.

But Justice John P. Bourcier disagreed. Long considered “the brains on the trial court,” Bourcier had a reputation for handing out stiff sentences. But he was a relatively new member of the Supreme Court. He argued that the case should be thrown out because of the misbehavior of the prosecutors. Cresto, he argued, had been within his authority and supported his position with state and federal case law. “If the Supreme Court ruled otherwise, Bourcier said, it would be bending the law to achieve a politically popular result: a trial of the DiPretes.”

The case would now be up to the three remaining Justices to decide. But two of the members had conflicts. Robert Flanders had served as DiPrete’s legal counsel while Maureen McKenna Goldberg had been appointed to the Court by DiPrete. Each had to be recused from participation. To replace them, Weisberger chose retired Supreme Court Justices Florence K. Murray and Donald F. Shea to hear the case. Victoria S. Lederberg, a former state senator, was the other member.

Despite some “friction between Murray and Weisberger” in the past, Murray agreed with him on this issue. Lederberg, on the other hand, seemed to support Bourcier’s position. The case, in essence, now came down to the feelings of Donald Shea and he agreed with Weisberger and Murray.“The DiPrete case had gained new life. On January 9, 1998, the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued a one-page order reinstating the charges against Edward and Dennis DiPrete.”

The ACLU Asks The Supreme Court To Investigate The Attorney General

In February of 1994, Pine still had a 60% approval rating according to Brown University polling data. “But controversy over Pine’s narcotics Strike Force and the DiPrete case have raised questions about Pine’s judgment and generated the criticism that the Attorney General does not always fight fair.” Now, the ACLU asked the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board to determine if Pine had acted inappropriately in the DiPrete case. Pine responded that the complaint was without merit because David Curtin of the Disciplinary Board had already informed the AG’s staff that there were no improprieties in the DiPrete case. Curtin, however, insisted the matter was still under review and that there would be a lot more to come. Pine’s Strike Force was also experiencing problems with informants and a case was dismissed as a result. FBI agents actually removed boxes of files from Pine’s office and assumed authority over the case.

On March 4, 1998, Attorney General Pine said that he would not seek re-election to the position that he had held six years. He felt it was time to re-enter private practice where he could earn significantly more than the $55,000 he was making as Attorney General.

“Eight years after the first tip reached investigators, the case of the State vs. DiPrete” still had not gone to trial and the new Superior Court Judge, Francis J. Darigan, Jr., had a new issue to deal with at a hearing before the lower court. This time the DiPrete attorneys were asking the court to award $1.2 million that it cost their clients to have them pour through 600 boxes of documents for items that were never handed over. They noted that the DiPretes had incurred legal fees exceeding $3 million to date. In addition to the money issue, Kathleen Hagerty continued to irritate the court when she explained to Darigan that her office disagreed with the Supreme Court. The prosecutors, she said, had not engaged in misconduct in the discovery process. “The Judge, peering over his reading glasses, ordered Hagerty to sit down. ‘I don’t need to be lectured by you, Miss Hagerty, on what constitutes discovery.’ ”

The DiPretes Strike A Plea Denying The People Of The State A Trial

Judge Darigan set a trial date of January 4, 1999, but on December 11, 1998, after almost four years of proclaiming their innocence, the DiPretes stunned the people of Rhode Island by deciding to accept a plea. Former Governor “Edward DiPrete pleaded guilty to 18 felony counts of racketeering, extortion and bribery, as part of a plea-bargain with state prosecutors. In the same courtroom, Dennis DiPrete, who stood accused of being his father’s bagman, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of soliciting an illegal $1,000 campaign contribution. He paid a $1,000 fine. As part of the deal, then-Attorney General Jeffrey B. Pine agreed to drop all of the felony charges against Dennis. In accepting the pleas, Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan, Jr. told Edward DiPrete: ‘You have forever disgraced a proud family name and have caused you and your family to suffer humiliation and derision solely because of your surrender to greed and avarice. More importantly,’ Darigan said, ‘you have broken faith with the Rhode Island community, which on three occasions honored you by election to Rhode Island’s highest public office. You have betrayed the public trust bestowed upon you, and this is most reprehensible and contemptible.’ ”

DiPrete was sentenced to 1 year in prison. He was allowed to work at his family’s insurance company during the day, and was confined to prison at night and on weekends. He would serve only 11 months in prison before being released early.

Retirement Board Revokes  Ex-Governor’s Pension While Dennis Expands His Asset Base

But for Ed DiPrete, the struggle wasn’t over. “The former Governor lost his license to sell insurance, and in January 1999, the state Retirement Board moved to strip him of his pension, which he had been receiving for eight years.” DiPrete had accumulated the pension serving in a long list of public service jobs that started with his service on the Cranston School Committee. His career brought him to the City Council and the Mayor’s office and then to the Governor’s office. He also served in the United States Navy. His annual state pension was $50,777. When his pension was finally revoked in November of 1999, DiPrete had already collected $380,613.75. “In revoking the pension, Presiding Justice Joseph F. Rodgers, Jr., cited DiPrete’s dishonorable service as Governor, calling his crimes “both extraordinary and unprecedented.” Rodgers agreed with Patricia DiPrete’s claim that she was an innocent spouse, however, he said she wasn’t entitled to any part of the pension because neither she nor her husband had provided enough information on her financial condition. Even as the former Governor was led into the courtroom in shackles, he refused, on at least a dozen occasions, to discuss his family finances, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights on advise of legal counsel. Since his release from prison, DiPrete has limited any discussion of his finances to his legal defense debts, which totaled over $1 million. By 2004, Edward and Patricia DiPrete had sold about $2 million worth of real estate they owned. The DiPretes appealed the pension ruling to the RI Supreme Court.

But while the former Governor was liquidating assets, Dennis and his wife were scooping them up. In debt to the tune of over $3 million in legal defense bills, Dennis DiPrete and/or his wife, Susan, have acquired two water view lots off Ocean Road in Narragansett. They built a fairly extensive home on one of the lots, a house that has 12 rooms, 5 bedrooms and 4 ½ baths and, according to sources, a home movie theater in the basement. A staff member in the office of the Narragansett Tax Assessor “calls it ‘the nicest estate in Narragansett.’ ” The 2000 tax assessment totaled $2,855,700 with an annual tax bill of $18,051.78 that was paid in full in advance. The DiPretes paid $650,000 for the raw land. The title to the property is held in the SFD Trust created by Susan DiPrete. WBR LLC purchased the second lot. Dennis paid $600,000 for that piece in February of 2001. Even before Dennis took ownership, he received an offer to purchase from Dennis Grey, a Lincoln contractor, who offered $875,000. DiPrete later rejected the offer and was sued by the contractor. Dennis’ brother, Thomas, an attorney, valued the property at $1.2 million in court documents. The parties reached an out of court settlement.

Stories of traditional political corruption, both active and passive as exemplified in these stories, make headlines somewhere in the world almost on a daily basis. They are intriguing to read and almost hypnotic in their ability to breed complacency on the part of the electorate. The effects of traditional political corruption are many and devastating. From lost economic opportunity to higher taxes to a distrust of government and politicians, traditional political corruption tears at the fabric of our society leaving only disappointment and economic destruction in its wake. 


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Paul Caranci

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

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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