Wired: 2010 Part 2, A Book by Paul Caranci
Monday, June 12, 2017
The book details how Caranci gambled his thirty-year political career, his reputation, and his family’s safety in his quest to restore good, honest government to a community that needed it most by going undercover with the FBI for 17 months to exposed corruption.
Buy the book by CLICKING HERE
Douglas Needs a Vacation
Within 24 hours of being led away from his home in cuffs, Burchfield submitted his one-paragraph letter of resignation to Mayor Charles Lombardi. That was followed on Saturday by Zambarano's resignation. Douglas, however, showed his typical temerity when he refused to resign his Council seat offering instead to take a “leave of absence.” In a letter to Mayor Lombardi, Douglas wrote,
“While I am certainly aware of your position regarding my status as a Town Council member and I am also aware of the decisions by Councilman Burchfield and Zambarano, I am not prepared to resign my seat at this point. However, due to the current allegations brought against me, I think it in the best interest of the Town Council and the Town for me to take a temporary leave of absence from the Council.”
Additionally, he requested a leave of absence from his job as an insurance adjustor at Northeast Auto Body & Towing. A federal probation official quickly noted that such an arrangement might violate the terms of Douglas's release. Among the list of requirements that Magistrate Martin imposed on Douglas in exchange for his release on a $50,000 bond was that he “maintain or actively seek employment.” Yet, Gary Salzillo, owner of Northeast, said that rather than show up for work on Monday, Douglas instead “came in and said he would take some time off.” Apparently, Douglas used the same language when he informed Mayor Lombardi that he would no longer participate at Council meetings. Barry Weiner, the Chief U.S. Probation Officer for the District of Rhode Island, reported,
“On the surface, seeking a leave of absence does not appear to be in line with what the court intended when it ordered Douglas to stay employed or seek employment. The goal is for defendants to spend their time actively engaged in a productive activity – not sitting at home watching television. We will certainly look at this right away and see where it all stands.”
Salzillo further said that although Douglas told the Magistrate during his arraignment that he needed to travel to Massachusetts and Rhode Island for his job as an insurance adjustor, Douglas's job responsibilities do not require travel to either state. I wondered how one can even think clearly enough to formulate that kind of lie to a federal court judge after the FBI just executed an arrest warrant against you for bribery and extortion.
As if this weren't a big enough display of arrogance, Douglas’s attorney, William C. Dimitri, filed a motion -requesting special permission for Douglas to travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina between May 27th and May 30th with his brothers-in-law and a friend saying that this “family golf vacation” at the South Carolina resort had been planned for months. Prosecutors scoffed at the request saying it wasn't really a family vacation if Douglas was not taking his wife and children along. U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha also argued that the trip would increase the “risk of the defendant's flight from prosecution.” Any court involvement on the issue, however, was averted when Douglas withdrew his request after being told by Dimitri that he would have to publicly identify his traveling companions by name, potentially drawing unwanted attention to them.
In Town, the jokes started almost immediately. Eighty-one year old Anthony Demarco quipped to a Providence Journal reporter as he stood on the sidewalk at the bottom of the stairs leading to the glass doors of Town Hall, “I'm going to pay my taxes now so they can steal some more money.” In describing his feelings about North Providence after this latest corruption scandal broke, Demarco said he wasn't surprised. “This Town has been a little – how can I put it to you – these people haven't been honest, it's been proven time and again.” Then he hurried up the stairs saying, as he looked back, “They’re waiting for the money, you know, they’ll have to split it up!”
At a local breakfast nook, Cal’s Corner owner Richard Califano donned a white apron with dollar bills dangling from his pockets and tied to his apron strings as he greeted his customers. He noted that the three councilmen were not only his friends, but regular customers.
I received a blast text message from the proprietor of a local bar that read, “Tomorrow night at Pure Rest. & Lounge in North Providence, offer the bartender a bribe and get a kick back drink for yourself and three friends.”
Perhaps the cruelest joke of all was one that started as a statement on the Providence Journal blog following the publication of a photograph of the three indicted councilmen. Joe LaPlante, a reporter/photographer for the North Providence Breeze, took the photo of all seven council-members at the inaugural ceremony in January 2009. Ironically, the photograph had been matted, framed and presented to the Council for hanging in the Council chambers by The Municipal Heritage Group (TMHG), a local, non-profit historical society started by Margie and me for the purpose of preserving and promoting local history. The presentation was part of TMHG's initiative to collect, prepare and present photographs of current and former Council members that would adorn the walls of the Council chamber. This particular photo prominently featured Zambarano, Burchfield and Douglas standing together surrounded on either side by the other Council members. Carnations decorated their lapels and the three smiled broadly. One of the blog writers noted the trio’s uncanny resemblance to Larry, Moe and Curley of Three Stooges fame. The moniker stuck. Throughout the entire ordeal newspaper reporters, talk show hosts and many town residents referred to the trio as the Three Stooges. The fact that their illegal antics, as recorded on tape and reported by the FBI, were so amateurish also contributed to the popularity of the nickname. On May 11, 2010 ProJo columnist Edward Fitzpatrick entitled his weekly column, “Shades of Larry, Moe and Curley on View at Town Hall.” In it he wrote, “With their town facing a $10.5 million budget deficit, these elected leaders are facing federal corruption charges. With cities and towns battling state aid cuts and slashing budgets, these public servants took a $10,000 taxpayer-financed trip to Florida to attend a conference (and discuss the alleged bribe.) Of course, they might be 'victims of soicumstance' (as Curley would say). When Burchfield told a fellow councilman, 'Christmas comes, you'll know it,' perhaps he was offering a helpful holiday hint (rather than promising to share future bribes). But if the FBI is right, people won't be saying, “Look at the grouse!” They'll be saying, “Look at the louse!'”
Local comedian, Frank O'Donnell, who also writes a column for the Breeze, wrote an article headlined, “Calling councilmen 'Stooges' Insulting to Curly, Larry, Moe.”
At the Town Council meeting of May 10th, Frank Manfredi took aim at the relationship between Ray Douglas and Mayor Lombardi. He questioned the mayor's motivation in placing Northeast Auto Body & Towing, the company that Douglas worked for and allegedly had an ownership interest in, on the town's tow list. The select few tow companies lucky enough to be selected by the mayor for inclusion on the coveted list are summoned to motor vehicle accident scenes by the police department for the purpose of removing the damaged vehicles.
Alluding to the appearance of pay-for-play dealings, Manfredi noted that the selection of Northeast Auto Body & Towing is reminiscent of a corruption case from the 1980's involving Mayor Vincent Buddy Cianci in Providence. Lombardi countered that the town's policy is to allow any North Providence-based towing company a place on the list and for each company to receive an equal number of police calls.
However, he later acknowledged to the reporter that Zincones, one of the four companies that enjoyed placement on the list, was actually from Johnston. In fact, to make room for Zincones on the list, a North Providence-based firm was eliminated.
The main focus of the meeting however was not cor-ruption, but rather budget deliberations. About fifty or so residents filled the room and every local news outlet cover- ed the meeting. I continued to write my notes as the other councilmen left the bench during a break in the proceedings. When I looked up a minute or two later, I was surrounded by three television reporters, three cameramen, three newspaper reporters, two newspaper photographers, and several radio station reporters, each reaching out their microphone and tape recorder-ladened hands to hear what I might say. Some jockeyed their video equipment for a better shot. I was taken aback and smiled anxiously. Although I should have, I didn't anticipate that they would all converge on me like they did.
Breeze Publisher, Tom Ward, in his weekly column wrote that Fleming and I should be “treated as no less than heroes in their hometown.” He continued,
“In LaPlante's story today regarding Monday night's Council meeting, the first for Caranci as he returned from a trip to Baltimore, it's written: 'One wag offered, 'Yeah, I just saw Caranci in a Chuck E Cheese costume,' the person as much as calling Caranci a rat for reporting the crime and helping the FBI uncover the details needed for a conviction. Shame on that 'wag', and any other person who has disparaging things to say about Caranci. His actions are nothing less than courageous and inspiring, and any person who sincerely cares about the future of the town knows damned well that North Providence will never thrive with lowlife politicians. Never! When the crooks are in charge, the people and businesses who provide jobs know it, and stay far, far away. It is no coincidence that North Providence teeters on the brink of bankruptcy.”
Lombardi, meanwhile, continued to do what he does best; deflect any negative attention by pointing the finger at others. In an interview with Buddy Cianci for ABC Channel 6, Lombardi stunned everyone when he said that former Senate President Joseph Montalbano “warned him last year that a town tax bill was in peril with Senate leaders because of the Mayor's refusal to reappoint” Montalbano to his municipal court judgeship. Lombardi contended that he “refused to budge. The tax bill, which would have authorized him to raise taxes to help close a $10 million budget deficit, died in the Senate last May.”
At issue was a supplemental tax bill that had passed the House earlier in May of 2009 but against which I lobbied aggressively in the Senate. In the Senate chamber I was able to present enough information to convince many Senators that the supplemental tax may have been unnecessary and would definitely be harmful to the residents of North Providence. Even if it were necessary, I said, issuing a supplemental tax bill in June forcing residents to pay the entire tax in 30 days was unnecessary when any needed tax increase could simply be attached to the July 1st budget that would allow residents a full year to come up with the additional money. The problem in North Providence, I testified in the Senate Committee,wasn't one of under taxation, but of overspending. I pointed out the folly of the frivolous spending habits of the mayor and noted that no amount of tax money raised would satisfy his lust for spending. The mayor bristled and Dick Fossa fumed as I concluded my testimony. The bill made it out of committee by a margin of one vote and headed to the Senate floor.
I continued my full court press sending a fully documented e-mail, to all 35 State Senators. With the help of Senators Domenick Ruggerio, Ed O'Neill (who Lombardi supported a year earlier in his successful race against Montalbano) and others, I prevailed. The Senate voted the measure down. The vote had nothing to do with Joe Montalbano's judgeship and everything to do with the merits of the issue. My arguments simply made sense.
Ray Douglas Resigns His Council Seat
On Friday, May 15th, Douglas finally resigned his seat saying he wanted to spare taxpayers the expense of having a second special election. “While I personally feel that I can continue to sit as a productive member of the council, I also must admit that my continual presence on the council will only serve to detract from town business,” Douglas wrote in a letter that was delivered to new Council President Giusti and to Mayor Lombardi.
It is somewhat typical that indictments precede arrests. In the case of the North Providence councilmen, there was no grand jury sitting at the time that the arrests were made. The actual indictments were issued some 3 weeks after the arrests, on May 27th, and addressed the February 2009 bribe received in exchange for the favorable vote on the Stop & Shop rezoning involving developer Churchill Banks.
The official indictment was somewhat mundane as compared to the Information that accompanied the arrests. But it did provide the first glimpse at exactly what lay ahead for the three councilmen detailing the two counts against each. The trio was charged with one count of being in receipt of a bribe by an agent of an organization receiving federal funds [the town], and a second count of attempting to obstruct commerce by extortion under color of official right.
Unlike most of the unsuspecting public, I knew that this was only the tip of the iceberg. Still to come were the charges regarding the Lyman Mill bribe and the attempted extortion of Ashes and the Olneyville New York System among others.
Political and governmental activities continued to roll on in North Providence. The Council established a July 13th date for the special primary election and a date of August 17th for the special general election. By June 5th the field of declared candidates numbered 22 and included 14 Democrats, 4 Republicans and 4 Independents. The winners of the races for the expiring terms of Zambarano and Burchfield would need to run again in the September primary and the November general elections while the winner of the seat vacated by Douglas would remain in office until January 2013, the end of that term.
A long summer of campaigning lay ahead for a lot of people and the remaining officials in the Town of North Providence would be looking for ways to come up with an additional $50,000 to finance the two special elections. It promised to be a busy summer indeed.
Zambarano Decides to Cooperate with Authorities
Just 3 weeks after his arrest, Zambarano, at the urging of his lawyer, had already decided to cooperate with authorities hoping that doing so might put him in a better position if he decided to plead guilty. He provided prosecutors with information that would further incriminate Douglas, Burchfield, Ciresi and Imondi. Frank Manfredi and I had suspected that Zambarano would be the first one to crack under the pressure. It was the knowledge that Zambarano was “singing” that may have prompted his sister, Town Clerk MaryAnn DeAngelus, to boast to other Town Hall employees that her brother would never see the inside of a jail. On May 26, 2010, with the help of his attorney, Zambarano offered a proffer that shed further light on the bribery scandals.
Even the government recognized that the information he provided might be viewed with a jaundiced eye by the court since Zambarano, in addition to the other charges, had also been charged with lying to the FBI, but the information provided would prove helpful in the prosecution of any other defendants who might not plead guilty to the charges against them. If nothing else, perhaps it would provide incentive for them to carp a plea. In exchange for the information contained in the proffer, the government agreed not to use any of the information provided against Zambarano. Some of the information in the proffer was an admission by Zambarano that the Baccari bribe delivered by Ciresi was actually $50,000, not the $25,000 that Zambarano discussed with me in a tape-recorded conversation.
Explaining why and how the bribe amount doubled, Zambarano told prosecutors “in the ensuing months Baccari made improvements to the property of several neighbors who would be impacted by the supermarket development. Approximately two weeks before the vote, Douglas told me that the neighbors were getting more than they (the councilmen) were, and suggested we tell Baccari to double the bribe amount. At Burchfield’s suggestion I called Ciresi and told him we wanted to double the bribe to $50,000. Baccari agreed to the $50,000. Ciresi said that he was doubling his take as well, to $6,000. None of us ever told Caranci that the bribe amount increased.” Zambarano continued, “On the night of the vote I met Ciresi in the parking lot of Antonio’s Restaurant and Ciresi delivered a brown bag to me containing $44,000 in cash. Ciresi told me that he had already taken his $6,000 out of the money.”
A Second Arraignment
The three accused councilmen appeared in court on Monday, June 8th for arraignment. Looking quite different than they did on the morning of May 6th when the FBI rustled them out of bed in the pre-dawn raids, the three were nattily attired in suits and walked freely into court with
Each entered a plea of not guilty before David Martin,the same Magistrate who released them on $50,000 unsecured bond a month earlier. They were released on the same terms after this appearance, but not before Martin informed them that the case was referred for trial before Chief Judge Mary M. Lisi on or after September 13th with a pretrial conference scheduled for September 8th. That was not good news for the three whose fate she held in her hands since Judge Lisi’s reputation is for imposing extremely harsh sentences to white-collar criminals, especially lawyers and politicians. Being of Italian decent, Lisi also had a reputation for being hard on Italian-Americans convicted of white-collar crime believing that such illegal activity tended to disparage the good name of all Italian-Americans.
As each defendant left the courthouse he was besieged with a plethora of television cameras and reporters soliciting comment. A defense attorney will generally instruct his client to make no public comments in situations such as this. Douglas and Zambarano heeded that advice and walked quickly past the gauntlet in silence. Burchfield, however, stopped just long enough to tease the reporters with a brief statement. “I will have a comment in due time. As of right now, we have to wait and see, and we have to get all of the evidence that we don't have yet. And when we do, I will comment in good time.”
Another Major Decision
I too was under an instruction to refrain from public comment and my days continued to slowly pass in silence. Before long it was time to declare for re-election. I had every intention to run regardless of the potential difficult political and financial times ahead. In late June I submitted my letter to the North Providence Democrat Town Committee requesting the Party endorsement. The Committee met at the Dillon Council Knights of Columbus Hall on Douglas Avenue on the evening of July 1st. Despite not attending the meeting I received the unanimous endorsement of a committee controlled by Mayor Lombardi and chaired by his Chief of Staff, Dick Fossa.
That very night however, Margie and I had a long talk about the future, something we had not had the time to do since the hectic events of May 6th. Both my parents were suffering from various stages of dementia and my sister was bearing the entire burden of their care while I kept busy dealing with politics and government, attending MPA classes at Roger Williams University, running a business and working full time as Rhode Island’s Deputy Secretary of State. I needed to help her out and I longed to spend more time with my parents, my wife and my family, which by now included four small but growing grandsons.
After discussing the time commitment needed to campaign while juggling all my other commitments, we made a decision to call it a career. Without any fanfare I simply e-mailed a letter to my Council colleagues informing them of my decision to not seek re-election. One would think that the decision to leave a position that I loved and served in for so many years would have been a difficult one. But in reality, I really longed to spend quality time with my family. Naturally I would miss having a forum from which to try to improve conditions in the town, but I also realized that one need not hold a political office to help people. I would continue to try to make a difference as a private citizen.
Special Elections Complete the Council Makeup
Special Primary Day, July 13th, was unusually mellow for a North Providence election. One would never know from the low turnout that today signified the culmination of a month's-long effort by 16 of the 22 declared candidates. Although turnout was truncated the result was never in question. Kristen J. Catanzaro, Alice C. Brady and Dino P. Autiello each won their respective elections to represent the Democrat Party in the race to replace the disgraced trio of councilmembers. The new trio of Democrats would continue on to face another crowded field in the special general election slated for the succeeding month.
The three winners appeared to have little in common. They ranged in age from the low 30's to the early 60's. One was an extraordinarily hardworking businesswoman; another was a school nurse with more degrees than a thermometer, and the youngest, a state employee. But the three had two things in common that would be critical to reshaping the town’s future; they were all opposed by Mayor Charles Lombardi and all voiced their intention to halt his outlandish spending practices.
Tuesday August 17th dawned a beautiful, albeit warm, summer day. While the weather was typical of a Rhode Island summer, the events of the day in North Providence were not. On this day the voters of North Providence returned to the polls yet again, this time to elect three new Council members running in the special (general) election. Alice Brady was elected to the at-large seat replacing Joseph Burchfield. The District 3 seats were claimed by Dino Autiello, who ironically held the same position in the R.I. State Senate as did Burchfield prior to his arrest, and Kristen Catanzaro, who took the seat previously held by Douglas, making her the only one of the three successful candidates who would not have to run for re-election the following month. Each won significant victories over their Republican or independent opponents and all three were supported by me, Frank Manfredi, Doc Corvese and many of the other elected officials in the town. More importantly, the Lombardi faction of town government once again opposed each during the campaign.
The FBI Probe Widens
While the council members geared up for the September round of primary elections, the U.S. Attorney was busy with the corruption crackdown on town hall. On Thursday, August 19th, he announced that the federal grand jury had handed down yet another round of indictments. This time the scandal widened to include prominent defense lawyer and former North Providence Town Solicitor Robert S. Ciresi, who was charged with conspiracy, bribery and extortion. Also indicted was Edward Imondi, the middleman who arranged for the Lyman Mill bribery. He was charged with conspiracy and giving a bribe to an agent of an organization receiving federal funds.
In addition to the indictment of the two new participants in the scheme, the original three conspirators were charged in a superseding indictment with several new allegations. Burchfield was accused of two counts of receiving a bribe; four counts of extortion, two counts of solicitation of a bribe and conspiracy. Douglas faced two counts of receiving a bribe, four counts of extortion, two counts of solicitation of a bribe and conspiracy. The charges against Zambarano widened to include two counts of receiving a bribe, three counts of extortion, conspiracy and making a false statement to a federal agent.
The 77-year old Ciresi, who many years earlier left North Providence for the serenity of Scituate, was a stranger to neither politics nor corruption. For more than a quarter century, Ciresi served as an integral part of the Mancini Administration. Mancini relied on Ciresi's counsel as well as his friendship.
The relationship between the two was undoubtedly symbiotic. The town’s historical record describes what was widely termed a town bailout orchestrated by Mancini at a time when Ciresi was having financial problems with the now infamous ice rink he owned on Mineral Spring Avenue. Ciresi owed tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes to the town in the 1970's and the property was listed on the town's tax sale list. Rather than allow the property to be taken by the town for the back taxes, however, Mancini manufactured a deal for the town to purchase the ice rink from Ciresi for a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
Following the purchase, Mancini proceeded to have the existing exterior walls of the dilapidated building torn down from the inside only after new walls were constructed on the outside thereby concealing the extent of the required renovations from the duped public. The “new” building was then converted for use as both the town's library and recreation facility and promptly named the Salvatore Mancini Library & Natatorium.
Most thought the combination of a swimming pool and library in the same building was odd, but few had the courage to openly question the wisdom of Mancini, a very wealthy and powerful political boss with a reputation of relentless pursuit of his enemies. Lombardi, Fossa, Corvese and I were among the select few not afraid to take up a challenge against him as we became very vocal critics of this deal.
Following sustained attacks led by Lombardi, Ciresi filed a $3 million libel suit against him over Lombardi's allegations of cronyism. The case went nowhere, but it demonstrated the level of contempt that Ciresi had for anyone opposing Sal Mancini or his actions.
Just prior to Mancini's death in 1994, Ciresi was entangled in the R.I. Credit Union scandal and was indicted on charges that he forged his former wife's signature as she lay dying of cancer to fraudulently barrow $100,000.00, according to reports in the Providence Journal. Although the charges were later dropped, Ciresi couldn't escape the cloud created by his role as director and delinquent borrower from the failed R.I. Credit Union in Warwick.
As a criminal defense attorney, Ciresi, it’s been said, counted several mob figures and wise guys among his clientele although he actually made his reputation in civil law representing school committees throughout the state and private clients before councils and other municipal boards and commissions. Despite taking on many high profile cases there was one case he couldn't handle himself - that of his son Michael.
In 2008 once-decorated North Providence Police Sergeant Michael P. Ciresi was convicted on several felony counts including a 2004 Pawtucket “home invasion in which an accomplice held the policeman's weapon to a woman's head.” Sgt. Ciresi’s nine convictions included counts of burglary, conspiracy, using a firearm in a crime of violence, receiving a stolen generator, obstructing police and attempting to steal money from a stolen ATM that had been seized in a raid. For his crimes he was sentenced to a prison term of 20 years which he is currently serving from a prison cell in New Hampshire.
According to court transcripts, Mark W. Pine claimed to have an extensive criminal relationship with Sgt. Ciresi who, according to Pine, “enlisted him to set off an explosion as a pretext for Ciresi’s gaining access to the North Providence home of a reputed drug dealer.” Pine testified that he was only one week out of prison when he and Ciresi agreed to break into the Pawtucket home of the drug dealer and his girlfriend in order to steal drugs and money. Pine said the two assumed that if someone was home, they would not call the police. “But the couple was at home and did call 911. When police arrived, Pine told them of Ciresi providing him with the gun, the mask and gloves” with which to carry out the robbery. Despite claiming that the gun was stolen from his glove compartment, Ciresi was suspended from the North Providence Police force and subsequently indicted on multiple counts.
In imposing the unusually long sentence, Judge Krause considered the violence in the various home invasions in which Ciresi was implicated and the position of public trust that he held in society. He also questioned Ciresi’s ability to discern right from wrong.
In April 2012, Sgt. Ciresi argued for a new trial saying that he was convicted because Judge Robert D. Krause wrongfully allowed the testimony of Mark Pine, Ciresi’s alleged accomplice, in violation of rules that require evidence to be relevant. During his testimony, Pine repeatedly impugned Ciresi’s character, the disgraced police officer argued, by discussing crimes for which Ciresi had been neither charged nor convicted. As a result, Ciresi claimed, the jury was tainted and he was erroneously convicted. His request for a new trial was denied.
Sgt. Ciresi made news again in 2015 when he petitioned the court for early release. Addressing the court via video from his New Hampshire prison, Ciresi told Judge Krause that “he made significant steps in his rehabilitation over his six years behind bars and was ready to become a productive member of society of high moral character.” During the 25 minute video plea, Ciresi “expressed deep regret for his crimes and apologized to his victims.” According to accounts provided to the Providence Journal by reporter Katie Mulvaney, “Ciresi told of living a double life built upon lie after lie in the years leading up to his 2007 arrest. His professional and private lives were a mess. He was on the brink of losing everything and couldn’t bring himself to ask for help. ‘I became the very person I took an oath to protect the public from,’ Ciresi, 46, of East Providence said as his sister Mary June Ciresi listened from the front row.”
Ciresi’s attorney, George J. West said that over the past six years his client had come to terms with a childhood sexual assault, earned his bachelor’s degree, rediscovered his faith and participated in prison non-violence workshops. West also noted that the excessive prison term exceeded sentencing benchmarks and might even be “viewed as cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”
A few weeks later, Judge Krause issued a written decision in which he denied Ciresi’s request for early release. Ciresi is currently scheduled for release in July 2025 assuming the inclusion of good-time credits. There is no doubt that his conviction and imprisonment was very difficult for his family.
Speaking to Journal investigative reporter Mike Stanton about the elder Ciresi’s newest client, Charlie Lombardi said he “wasn't surprised that Baccari had hired Ciresi as his lawyer on the Stop & Shop project. Years ago Mancini had helped push through a zoning change allowing Baccari, Mancini's friend and campaign contributor, to develop condos at the former Louisquisset golf course. Mancini would later buy a unit in the complex – the only one with a fieldstone foundation, a fireplace and a lawn kept green by in-ground sprinklers.”
Ironically, I served on the North Providence Zoning Board while that case was pending and, much to the dismay of Baccari, I voted against the density variance that would have allowed for the expansion of the project. In another twist of fate, Lombardi who also received campaign contributions from Baccari during his own campaigns for mayor, now owns one of those condominiums and lives in that very complex!
The newest indictment charges that the elder Ciresi did knowingly and willfully conspire with the other four indicted conspirators to commit and attempt to commit offenses against the United States that included bribery and extortion in the Stop & Shop zoning, and conspiracy in the Stop & Shop and Lyman Mill zonings.
The 73-year-old Edward Imondi, a boxing trainer, and manager of the Providence strip club, the Cadillac Lounge, was charged with giving and receiving a bribe, extortion and conspiracy, all in connection with the Lyman Mill project. It was Ciresi who first suggested to Burchfield, Douglas and Zambarano that they approach Imondi to solicit the bribe in the mill zoning.
The Lyman Mill is one of the oldest mills in North Providence. Built in 1809 by Daniel Lyman, it was the first mill in Rhode Island to use water-powered Scotch looms in the manufacture of cotton. It is located in the heart of Lymansville on some 13 acres of land abutting the Woonasquatucket River from which it garnered its power in the early 19th century. In one of those “only in Rhode Island” stories, my paternal grandmother operated a loom in that mill in the early 20th Century and my mother worked for a jewelry firm located in the building in the 1960's and 1970's. Shortly before seeds of this corruption scandal began to blossom, Margie and I, through The Municipal Heritage Group, dedicated a sign and sponsored a ceremony commemorating the 200th anniversary of the mill's construction.
Despite his advancing age, or maybe because of it, Imondi is “well-known around the fight game.” According to a Providence Journal article, “In the spring of 2009, he trained, managed and worked the corner for Light Heavyweight boxer Joey “KO Kid” Spina, a world-ranked fighter at the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln. In an interview, Spina praised Imondi. 'I actually have somebody who cares about me,' he said. 'The gentleman calls me three, four times a day – makes sure I'm running, makes sure I eat, makes sure I'm doing the right things.”'
It is highly likely that Joe Burchfield, who serves as a ring announcer at many of the fights promoted by Classic Entertainment and Sports, a fight promotion company owned by the former councilman’s father Jimmy Burchfield, may have also been acquainted with Imondi through that same association.
The three indicted councilmen donned their suits once again on August 23rd for their arraignment on the newest charges against them. Once again each would stand before Magistrate David Martin, now a familiar face to them, and enter not guilty pleas to the 12 counts detailed in the superseding indictment. The short proceedings resulted in the three being released under the same terms and conditions of their previous arraignments.
Two days later Bob Ciresi, appearing tanned and relaxed, and co-defendant Edward Imondi, appeared separately in the same federal courtroom and stood before the same Magistrate. Their lawyers also entered not-guilty pleas on their behalf. Magistrate Martin released each defendant on $50,000 unsecured bond and set a tentative trial date of November 30th for each. Both men were forced to surrender their passports and any weapons. According to Zachary Malinowski of the Providence Journal, “Ciresi told his daughter, Mary Jane Ciresi, a criminal defense lawyer, to pick up his guns at his North Providence law office and home and deliver them to the court.”
The Finance Committee Investigates the Lombardi Administration's Handling of the HUD Loan Program
During the course of the FBI probe into the activities of the three corrupt councilmembers, Frank Manfredi and I stumbled upon a handful of issues that caused us concern over Mayor Lombardi's management of his Administration. The first came to light in an impromptu discussion with Manny Giusti prior to a Council meeting. He told us that he heard several women who worked in Town Hall complaining about Maria Vallee receiving a HUD loan intended for low-income residents. Based upon information gleaned from follow-up discussions that Frank had with some of those Town Hall employees we were able to convince the other members of the Council to authorize an investigation. The inquiry was to be conducted by the Council's four-member Finance Committee, which Manfredi chaired and on which I served. That committee was empowered to conduct a full investigation into the administration of the HUD Loan Program in North Providence as it related to a loan awarded to Acting Finance Director Maria Vallee and her husband Michael. At this point, there were still only four seated Council members. Manny Giusti voted with me and Frank to authorize the three-month investigation. Joseph Giammarco, an ardent supporter of Mayor Lombardi, cast the lone dissenting vote.
Throughout the months of July, August and September Frank and I scoured hundreds of pages of documents that we acquired through a formal request made under the state’s Public Records Act commonly referred to as the APRA. The formal request was made necessary when the full Council's request for the same information was essentially ignored by the Administration. As Manfredi and I learned, there was good reason why the Administration refused to provide the information to us on a voluntary basis. The records contained information that was considered explosive and proved that there were a significant number of irregularities with the granting of the Vallee loan; irregularities that Manfredi and I believed violated HUD's Rules and Regulations and the R.I. ethics laws and possibly constituted criminal activity by several high ranking members of the Administration.
Maria Vallee, apparently acting on the advice of legal counsel, opted to ignore a lawful subpoena issued to her by the Finance Committee for the purpose of providing the Committee with an opportunity to hear her response to the many questions surrounding the circumstances of the Vallee family loan. She notified the Committee through her attorney that she would not attend the meeting. We were forced to construct our case solely by piecing together evidence provided in the documentation accumulated. As it turned out, that would be enough.
Our research and investigation consumed about 100 man-hours and resulted in the production of a one hundred and forty-page report that was presented to the Council's finance committee. Manfredi and I had conducted all the research. Although Giusti initially supported our efforts he apparently had a change of heart as our investigation began to uncover irregularities implicating people close to Lombardi. From that point on he began to obstruct our investigation and diminish the findings.
The report revealed the following violations:
A loan was granted to town employees by the town’s Loan Committee. The Loan Committee is comprised of three town employees. They are Director of Administration Rocco Gesualdi, Acting Finance Director Maria Vallee, and Sherri Arlia. HUD regulations disqualify employees from eligibility in the program. They further disqualify any member of the Loan Committee from eligibility.
HUD Regulations reserve all funds for persons with total annual household income of $55,000 or less. Maria Vallee alone earned in excess of $70,000. Even her husband’s income apparently exceeded the guideline limits. The total household income exceeded the annual limit by more than double.
Vallee sought to circumvent the income limit guidelines by failing to include her name on the application pretending instead to present her husband as the sole applicant. Evidence existed however that the Committee had previously rejected applicants on the basis that their household income exceeded the guideline suggesting that Vallee was very familiar with the requirement.
The loan granted to the Vallees exceeded HUD's guidelines. HUD regulations limit the size of home improvement fund loans to $12,500 per unit. Under special circumstances (which did not exist in this case) the committee may grant loans exceeding $12,500 per unit. No other loans granted by the North Providence Loan Committee exceeded the $12,500 cap. The Vallee loan exceeded the cap by a factor of more than three.
Checks written to pay contractors for work done on the Vallee home were signed by Maria Vallee despite the fact that she claimed to have recused herself from the process to feign avoidance of impropriety. In some cases the funds were provided to the vendors even before the loan was officially approved.
Maria Vallee directed the department that was in charge of collecting payments from loan recipients. The Vallee loan was at one time 9 months delinquent in payments yet no action was taken by that department to collect the arrearage. Within two months of the start of our investigation, all past due payments were made by Maria Vallee in an apparent effort to conceal the delinquency and all the checks were signed by her.
Inspections of the work completed at the Vallee home were not performed by town officials in a timely manner despite the vendors having already been paid in full for their work. This is a clear violation of HUD guidelines which require that satisfactory inspections be performed prior to the contractor getting paid.
The lien on the Vallee property was not recorded until some 18 months after the loan was approved leaving HUD totally exposed for their funds for that length of time and constituting a violation of the program guidelines.
The report, accepted by the Finance Committee in September, recommended that the Council invoke its powers under the town charter to place Maria Vallee and Sherri Arlia, a member of the HUD Loan Committee, on administrative leave while HUD's Office of Inspector General (OIG) could complete its investigation of the program. The report concluded that no action needed to be taken against Rocco Gesualdi, the mayor's former Director of Administration, since he had already left the employ of the town. The Committee voted to refer the report, with its recommendations, to the full Council for action. The Council, which now included the newly elected members replacing the indicted three, accepted the report but on a vote of 5-2, refused to take the recommended action.
For their part, Maria Vallee and her husband Michael, who was officially listed as the recipient of the loan, retained legal counsel almost immediately upon issuance of the report. Maria retained Anthony M. Traini while James Lepore represented Michael. Each lawyer had ties to Local 1033 of the R.I. Laborers Union that represents Town Hall employees. Maria Vallee contended that the loan was compliant with all federal guidelines since it was in her husband's name and his income alone did not exceed HUD's guidelines.
Mayor Lombardi, according to sources within Town Hall, tried to conceal any evidence of Vallee's involvement in the transaction. He held at least two meetings with staffers who, according to some of those in attendance, were essentially sessions on how to best protect Vallee from prosecution. In addition he attended a meeting of several Administration members with Frank Manfredi and Manny Giusti ostensibly to answer questions about the loan program. However, Vallee was excluded from the meeting and those in attendance provided few answers. Town Solicitor Anthony Gallone, who had requested the services of a court stenographer to record and transcribe the proceedings, tempered any answers that were forthcoming.
After completing an investigation based in part on a review of all the information that Frank and I provided to the Council, Michael Tondra of the state Office of Housing and Community Development, the state agency that administers the federal money on HUD's behalf, ordered the federal loan program in North Providence closed. He required Vallee and other employees who received a HUD loan in violation of program guidelines to immediately return all of the money they received. In his report, Tondra observed,
“several government employees have received housing rehabilitation loans in the past, in at least one instance, a local employee (a reference to Maria Vallee) who directly exercises responsibilities with regard to the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG), received loan assistance. In this instance, the town has indicated the individual recused themselves from any discussion related to the loan. No formal documentation of the recusal was available. At no time has the town requested exception from conflict of interest provisions for any individual...Provision of assistance to government employees, particularly those who exercise functions or responsibilities with respect to CDBG activities, and/or those with whom they have family/business ties, without written exception, violates CDBG conflict of interest provisions. Recusal alone, even if documented appropriately, is insufficient to comply with this requirement.”
The agency's report was delivered to the town in early August and the requirements of the narrative were reported on August 3rd in the Providence Journal. Some 40 days later, on September 13th, Lombardi announced that “he would not cooperate with the finance committee, calling the panel’s investigation a ‘political circus’ conducted by Manfredi,” He also noted that the town was “preparing a corrective action plan in response to the Office of Housing and Community Development's recent investigation of the HUD program.”
In addition to the findings already noted, the Office of Housing and Community Development's report reviewed many inconsistencies within the town records on the eligibility of loan recipients. It identified several instances of conflict of interest and gave the town 30 days to submit documents verifying the eligibility of 29 loan recipients. It also found that Maria Vallee had written checks to herself.
Lombardi took the opportunity to announce that he might place the program under the direction of Tri-Town, a community action program that helps low income residents of North Providence and Johnston, but claimed the program was still running. Though Frank and I disputed that claim, if true, then Lombardi was in apparent violation of the HUD OIG order. Despite the many problems and the discontinuation of the program, the mayor continued to protect Vallee in comments to the press and before the Council still refusing to even consider taking any disciplinary action against her.
Council President Giusti, for his part, opposed any disciplinary hearings at the Council level saying that he preferred that the outside agencies, the R.I. Ethics Commission and HUD, conduct their own investigations. In words that seemed to echo the sentiments of Mayor Lombardi, Giusti said, “I just think we should be done with it. Once it's in the hands of the authorities, we should be done with it.” Giusti also contended that Frank and I would expose the town to legal action if we discussed the character of two employees at public meetings. Manfredi and I believed Giusti’s contention baseless. In fact, Frank and I were seeking to bring the conversation into executive session because that is the lawful forum in which to discuss personnel matters.
The Council, however, with Giusti leading the opposition, denied us that opportunity. Apparently Giusti just failed to realize that the Council has its own legal responsibility to take action when Council members identify misconduct by town personnel. That authority is granted to the Council under the Town charter. State Police, FBI and other criminal-type investigations can drag on for years. A public body need not be saddled with unethical employees while outside agencies conduct criminal investigations. Regardless of those findings, a municipal governing body has a responsibility to ensure its residents that all employees representing the municipality are of upstanding integrity and moral fiber.
Frank and I began to question aloud whether Lombardi, Vallee, Giusti and some of the other Council members had ever bothered to even read the Town charter. If they did, their statements provided an indication that they simply didn’t comprehend its purpose or meaning in this regard.
The Finance Committee Investigates the Administration's Awarding of No-Bid Contracts to Friends, Supporters and Political Contributors
When the HUD Loan investigation concluded, Frank and I received Council permission for the Finance Committee to review irregularities with the Administration's awarding of contracts. By this time Kristen Catanzaro had been appointed to the Committee. The Committee was now comprised of at least three members that wanted the truth exposed. Frank and I knew, however, that we had to act fast because once our terms on the Council ended in January Giusti, Giammarco and others would probably bring an end to the studies thereby concealing the incriminating particulars and denying the public an opportunity to learn the truth. Once again, the Administration refused to cooperate with the investigation. Lombardi withheld information and documents. Witnesses refused to respond to subpoenas and there were rumors that Lombardi was advising them, in some cases ordering them, not to appear before the Committee. Lombardi and Giusti even refused to authorize payment to the stenographer that was hired a stenographer to take a verbatim record of the Committee's proceedings. Likewise, they refused to reimburse me for the $114.96 that I paid out-of-pocket to have the HUD report copied and bound for distribution to the Council members, something made necessary when the Town Clerk refused to allow us the use of the office copy machine. Both bills were eventually paid after legal action was threatened.
Despite the lack of cooperation, the Finance Committee was able to review ample records and subpoena sufficient witnesses to compile a 136-page report that alleged 14 distinct violations of the Purchasing Laws specified in R.I. General Law and the North Providence town charter. Some of the indiscretions were repeated many times constituting dozens of violations. The total amount of money involved from the awarding and payment of no-bid contracts was in the millions.
Lombardi and his Town Solicitor, Anthony Gallone, criticized the report as frivolous. Manny Giusti called it bogus. That description of the report so angered Alice Brady, John Lynch and Kristen Catanzaro, the three new councilors who supported authorization of the investigation, that the three decided to oppose Giusti in his bid to retain the Council presidency even though Lynch and Brady had already pledged their support. Incredulous that the lack of support could result from his attempts to discredit the work of the other councilmembers, Giusti began to blame several other people for his reversal of fortunes.
In addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid for no-bid contracts awarded to Polisena Construction, one of the more interesting abuses involved the town's tree-cutting contract. In this case the town issued a bid for tree services through the town's Purchasing Department. The Request For Proposals (RFP) required that each firm provide a per-tree price for cutting, grinding and trimming services. Five bids were received as follows:
Yardstick, Inc. $185.00/tree-cutting
Turf Mater, Inc. $210.00/tree-cutting
CJ Tree Service $280.00/tree-cutting
North-Eastern Tree Service, Inc. $320.00/tree-cutting
Sepe Tree Service $720.00/tree-cutting
According to the minutes of the Purchasing Board meeting of October 25, 2007, Rocco Gesualdi, representing Mayor Lombardi, “motioned to table this bid since the Rhode Island state bid list may be better.” (NOTE: State law allows a municipal government to use a vendor from the state’s Master Purchasing Agreement (MPA) rather than to accept or issue its own bids if a vendor from the State’s list provides a lower price than those obtained in the municipal bid. The State list is generally used by a municipality to obviate the need for a local bid, thereby saving time. It is somewhat unusual for a municipality to select a vendor from the state’s MPA after it had solicited its own bids.) Gesualdi’s motion received a second and carried on a unanimous vote. The record also reveals that the Purchasing Board never discussed the issue again.
Subsequent to the Purchasing Board’s action, the town selected a vendor from the State’s Master Purchasing Agreement. North-Eastern Tree Service was awarded the contract. However, the award was not for the $185.00 per tree that Yardstick, Inc. bid. Nor was it for the $210.00 per tree bid by TurfMaster, Inc. It wasn't even for the $320.00 that North-Eastern Tree Service bid in the Town's solicitation. Rather, it was for a price of $175.00 per hour without limitation to the length of time it might spend to remove each tree. Incredibly, in the case of its service to North Providence, that worked out to be an average of roughly $1,100 per tree, about 6 times higher than the lowest bid received and almost 4 times more than the Town might have paid to acquire the services of the same firm had the Purchasing Board members picked North-Eastern Tree Service based on the municipal bids it received.
So why didn't the Purchasing Board award the bid itself? Apparently, the Finance Committee concluded, the Administration wanted to select North-Eastern Tree Service, Inc but was unable to do so based on the results of the local bids because that firm was not the low bidder. They were not even the 2nd low bidder. They were the second highest bidder of the five firms that responded.
The question becomes, why would the town want to pay so much more just to award the bid to North-Eastern Tree Service? Speculation at the time centered on the relationships that Lombardi had with the Sepe family. Michael Sepe owns North-Eastern Tree Service, Inc. The mayor appointed Michael Sepe’s brother as the town’s tree warden. The tree warden's wife, Beverly Sepe, was the mayor's personal secretary. Even if the process were completely legitimate, the award certainly created a situation conducive to abuse and an appearance of impropriety.
In North Providence, if a resident wants a problematic tree thought to be on public property cut down for any reason, the petitioner must call the mayor's office. That call was answered by Lombardi’s assistant Beverly Sepe. Beverly would then instruct the tree warden, her husband Robert Sepe, to go inspect the tree to determine 1) if in his opinion the tree warranted removal and 2) if the tree is on town property, including a sidewalk. Once Sepe determined that a tree was in fact on town property and removal is deemed warranted, then the town becomes responsible for the cost of removal. In that case, Sepe would call his brother's-in-law firm to remove the tree. This type of cozy, incestuous relationship is one that would be difficult to explain before the R.I. Ethics Commission.
During the 18 month period that North-Eastern Tree Service held the contract to remove trees for the town, the firm was paid just under $100,000, more money than had ever been paid for tree cutting services in similar spans of time.
As a result of our investigation, the town once again began using the services of Yardstick, Inc. Yardstick’s owner, who had testified before the Finance Committee, agreed to honor the $185.00 per tree price that he had bid 18 months earlier. The immediate savings to the town was more than $900.00 per tree. That is a significant amount of money!
The Town charter requires the Council to remove the offending employee from his position when it is determined that the bidding laws were violated. It is unclear what authority the Council has when the offending party is the mayor. Therefore, the Finance Committee report recommended that the Council check with a constitutional scholar to advise the Council of its options.
Once again, the Council, led by Giusti, (NOTE: my term and that of Frank Manfredi had expired and we were replaced on the Council by Stephen Feola and John Lynch respectively) refused to take any action. Giusti went so far as to deny that the Council ever even voted to accept the recommendations of the report; this after he personally voted twice to accept the recommendations, once in the Finance Committee and once as a member of the full Council. Both votes were unanimous. Lombardi continued his sidestep and doubled down on his attack. Mark Reynolds of the Providence Journal wrote, “Lombardi has declined to respond to the specific allegations set forth in the report. 'I refuse to respond to the vaudevillian act of Paul Caranci and Frank Manfredi,' he said.”
Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s History of Political Corruption
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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