Wired: 2011 Part 1, A Book by Paul Caranci

Monday, June 26, 2017

 

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Peter Neronha

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

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

Buy the book by CLICKING HERE

 

2011

INAUGURATION 2011

 

The holidays that brought 2010 to a close and greeted the New Year were probably not the most joyous for the eight people that were ensnared in the corruption scandals exposed in 2010. Still, 2011 didn't look to be any more promising for them. On January 8, 2011, my term on the Council, along with that of Frank Manfredi, officially came to an end with the inauguration of the new Council and school committee members. 

Initially I had not intended to be present at the event, but then I learned that Town Historian Thomas Greene would give the keynote address discussing the history of North Providence. Tom is a fascinating speaker with an extraordinary knowledge of town history and I always enjoy an opportunity to hear him speak. 

During the inaugural proceedings history was also made as Kristen Catanzaro was easily elected the first female President of the North Providence Town Council. Coming to grips with the fact that he didn’t have the four votes necessary to retain his leadership role, Giusti apparently decided against mounting a challenge to Catanzaro’s candidacy. Doc Corvese was asked to administer the oath of office to two of the new Council members as well as School Committee member Donald Cataldi. For his graciousness Corvese was dubbed the new titular head of the anti-Lombardi faction by the local press. 

Town's Audit Firm Reports the Town Ignored Bidding Requirements

On February 21, 2011, the Providence Journal finally reported on a month-old story that was first identified in the audit report received by the Council in January. Braver Accountants and Advisers reported that the town was in violation of bidding laws when it failed to solicit bids for a flood-control project on Evergreen Parkway. The Regulation of the U.S. EPA, the agency that paid for the work required town officials to solicit proposals from contractors. According to the auditors, the town had in fact failed to abide by federal regulations when it hired an engineer to manage the 2009 project and allowed that engineer to hire subcontractors. The project manager said he solicited three phone quotes and eventually hired R.P. Iannuccillo Construction & Sons for the job. He claimed that the $180,000 bid from Iannuccillo was the lowest one that he received to create a large retention pond and install new drainage pipes. As it turns out, R.P. Iannuccillo & Sons had a prior town relationship that was not disclosed. In 1988, the firm's president, Bruce Iannuccillo was the running mate of Robert A. Ricci when the two were first elected to the North Providence Town Council. Iannuccillo lost his bid for re-election two years later, but Ricci went on to serve for 18 years.

Lombardi told the reporter that he wasn't aware of the bidding requirement but that he felt the situation constituted an emergency. Once again, former Director of Administration Rocco Gesualdi came to Lombardi's rescue telling the reporter that “he will take the heat” for the lack of bidding. “We did not have the luxury of going through the procedure because houses were getting damaged,” Gesualdi said. Lead auditor Robert Civetti contested Gesualdi’s contention noting that “The flooding had been a problem for decades, so it didn't constitute an emergency” 

To many political observers in North Providence, Charles Lombardi always seemed to be at the heart of the many problems facing the town. Yet, he always seemed to avoid criminal prosecution. The news reported in the March 5th edition of the Providence Journal would be another example of the Teflon that seemed to coat the mayor. On that day Mark Reynolds reported that the U.S. EPA had cleared the Lombardi Administration of wrongdoing in the Evergreen Parkway project. Jacqueline G. LeClair, Manager of the Municipal Assistance Unit of the EPA-Boston, wrote in a letter to Lombardi, “It appears that the town's decision may have been necessary to minimize any damaging flooding scenarios and better protect public health and safety...There was a concern that the Evergreen Parkway area would incur additional flooding damage if the project was pushed back to the following year.” 

Reveling in yet another victory, Lombardi told Reynolds, “there was never a thought in my mind that we were doing anything wrong. We were just trying to address the flooding of a number of houses in that area.” Ironically, Lombardi didn't seem that confident when he allowed Gesualdi to take responsibility for the lack of bidding on February 21st. 

Meeting the U.S. Attorney’s Team

I had the opportunity to meet U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha as well as John McAdams and Terry Donnelly, the two Assistant U.S. Attorneys assigned to the North Providence corruption case, several months earlier when Jim Pitcavage set up a meeting for us. Neronha was appointed to his position on September 16, 2009 by President Barack Obama. A fourth generation native of Jamestown, Neronha graduated both Boston College and Boston College Law School magna cum laude. He served for 7 years in the R.I. Attorney General’s Office, first as a Special Assistant Attorney General and subsequently as an Assistant Attorney General. In those capacities he prosecuted criminal cases that included public corruption, white-collar crime, environmental and healthcare fraud. After joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2002 Neronha prosecuted criminal cases concerning political corruption, white-collar crime, and drug and firearm offenses. He also served as Chief of the District’s Organized Crime Strike Force. 

In addition to their reputation for being tough on crime, I found out very early in that first meeting that the U.S. Attorney and his team of prosecutors are so professional that they don’t readily acknowledge humor during the course of business. In that regard at least, I was quite different. I enjoy a good joke and often use comedy as a means of trying to make a very stressful situation a bit more comfortable. Consequently, I couldn’t resist a few well-placed quips at that first meeting. Much to their chagrin, my lighthearted nature wasn’t muted during our subsequent meetings! 

The Indicted Councilmen Have a Change of Heart

It is probably an understatement to say that none of those indicted in the various corruption schemes were having a good time, but it might be argued that John Zambarano in particular was having difficulty coming to grips with the consequences of his actions. In fact, “on February 17, 2011, Zambarano sought admission to a local psychiatric hospital with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.” He was treated by Dr. Susan M. Kelly for flashbacks that pertained to his arrest some 9 months earlier. Those providing for his treatment noted that Zambarano’s symptoms were “consistent with an individual tormented by deep feelings of guilt and shame.” In all, the anxiety and stress were responsible for two hospitalizations and the administration of a “battery of medications to stabilize his mental and physical health.” Zambarano’s second and most recent hospital stay was from February 17 to February 23, 2011.

On the day of his release, amid rumors that the three indicted councilmen might be cooperating with authorities, Zambarano, Burchfield, Douglas and Imondi announced that they were going to change their pleas to guilty on the 2010 bribery and extortion charges. Providence Journal reporter Zachary Malinowski wrote that the three councilmen “have lost their will to fight.” Perhaps it was more a case of seeing the handwriting on the wall as FBI Special Agent Jim Pitcavage said the evidence against them was just too strong and they had no other choice. “Edward Imondi also signed a plea agreement in which he admitted to delivering more than $40,000 in bribes to the three elected officials,” according to Malinowski. Three of the four were scheduled to enter their new pleas before Judge Lisi on Monday February 28th, while Zambarano was scheduled to appear last at 10:00 A.M. on Tuesday the 1st of March. Zambarano's one day delay led to speculation that he was the one really cooperating with officials and the evidence against the others was simply too strong for them not to carp a plea. The written plea agreements themselves were silent on the issue.

Douglas broke his press silence in a brief interview with the Providence Journal in which he told Malinowski “he was hanging in there.” As part of the agreement, the councilmen were required to return the $46,000 that they collected in bribe money. 

Ciresi was steadfast in proclaiming his innocence, however, and according to the FBI was scheduled to begin his trial on April 2nd. I was notified that I would be required to testify in his trial but that my testimony would be limited to identifying voices in the audio and video recordings. The U.S. Attorney scheduled a three-hour meeting with me on April 7th to begin the trial preparation process. Former Councilman John Fleming was also asked to testify and had to report to the U.S. Attorney's office on April 8th.

In addition to the political corruption charges, Zambarano also agreed to plead guilty to the charges related to the insurance scam he perpetrated with Ricci, Sergiacomi and DiPaolo. Douglas agreed to plead guilty to the additional charges against him, namely that he ran a sports betting operation and threatened gamblers delinquent in their payments. Malinowski reported that under terms of the plea agreements, maximum sentences and fines that Judge Lisi could impose would be 180 years for Zambarano, along with a fine of $3,250,000 and 39 years of supervised release. Douglas faced 145 years of prison time, a fine of $2,500,000 and 27 years of supervised release. Burchfield had the potential for a maximum of 125 years in prison, a fine of $2,250,000 and 27 years of supervised release while Imondi stared at the threat of 35 years in prison, a $750,000 fine and 9 years of supervised release. 

With their guilty pleas, those sentences were likely to be significantly decreased. In fact, Zambarano reportedly told many people that he would be given only 1 year to serve while his sister, Town Clerk MaryAnn DeAngelus proclaimed to some in Town Hall that her brother would never see the inside of a prison. 

Burchfield, Douglas and Imondi reported to Judge Lisi's courtroom as scheduled on the last day of February, and, as expected, they all entered their guilty pleas and acknowledged their respective roles in the bribery and extortion schemes. Burchfield told Judge Lisi that over the past 5 years he has struggled with an addiction to pain killers and has had treatment for alcohol abuse. When Lisi explained that the guilty plea could result in a prison term of 125 years, Burchfield took off his glasses and wiped his eyes with a handkerchief. 

Douglas alone made a personal statement to reporters outside the courthouse. He choked up as he lamented the pall that his actions cast on the town. He apologized to the people he was elected to serve saying, “They elected me to do a job, and had faith in me, and I really let them down hum as well as my family. So all I have to say is I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the dark cloud that I put over North Providence.” 

Their acknowledgments of the criminal wrongdoing before the judge, as well as their written plea agreements implicate Robert Ciresi in his role as a middleman in the scheme. Pitcavage informed me, perhaps in an effort to make me feel at ease, that the evidence against Ciresi was very strong and he believed that Ciresi too will ultimately plead guilty. Regardless of Pitcavage’s well-intentioned intuitions, trial preparation by the prosecution team continued and sentencing of the three men was set for May 16th.

On March 1, 2011 Zambarano took his turn before Judge Lisi. His appearance was delayed beyond that of the others after his attorney had informed the court, during a February 23rd pretrial conference, of Zambarano’s hospitalization in which he sought treatment for depression. Now standing before the judge, Zambarano pleaded guilty to all 12 charges against him including bribery, extortion, conspiracy, lying to the FBI, mail fraud, and insurance fraud.

Following a detailed accounting of his crimes by Assistant U.S. Attorney Terrence Donnelly, Lisi asked Zambarano if he actually did all the things that were outlined. He admitted to each crime and acknowledged his delivery of $4,000 of the bribe money to me. Lisi informed him that despite his agreement, she could sentence Zambarano to as many as 180 years in prison and impose a fine of up to $3,200,000. After acknowledging his potential fate and confirming his medical condition, Zambarano hurriedly left the courtroom without speaking to reporters.

Following the guilty pleas, Mayor Lombardi told Joseph LaPlante of the North Breeze, “It has been an unfortunate situation. It has been exhausting and embarrassing for everybody. Now the cloud that has been hanging over our town has been lifted. My thoughts go out to their families.” 

 

Though no longer on the Town Council, Frank Manfredi was still very much involved in helping to expose the corruption that still plagued the town. On March 21st he informed me of his recent conversations with both Alexander Rosario of HUD's Office of Inspector General (OIG) and Peter Mancini of the R.I. Ethics Commission. Rosario, Manfredi reported, told him that the OIG has turned over the results of HUD's investigation of the HUD Loan scandal to the U.S. Attorney's Office intimating that there was prosecutable misconduct present. Mancini, Frank continued, also confirmed that a prosecutor had been assigned to the Ethics Commission’s case and that the information gathered during that investigation was also turned over to the U.S. Attorney at their request. Mancini also told Manfredi that the Ethics Commission was very fortunate to have uncovered a witness that provided very good information to help their case against Maria Vallee. 

HUD Program Funding Partially Restored

On March 22, 2011, the North Breeze reported that it had learned of a letter issued to the town reinstating certain portions of the HUD Program dealing with grants to charitable

organizations. Funding was restored to St. Mary's Home, the Salvatore Mancini Center on the Aging, the Fogarty Center and two others in the amount of $117,075, provided that certain restrictions were met. The restrictions included the funds being “dispersed as reimbursements provided the town and the agency receiving the funds can document compliance with federal rules and regulations, national objective and eligibility standards including the beneficiary of the funds providing documentation of their use, an environmental review when applicable, proof that the Davis-Bacon Act wage rates were observed, that procurement was proper, and financial management control in compliance with federal regulations is proven.” 

Still in a state of suspension, however, is the Home Repair Loan Program that was the actual subject of abuse. The Breeze also reported that it learned “that the Inspector General's Office of HUD is continuing to pursue its investigation of alleged wrongdoing in the town's home improvement loan program.” That announcement confirmed the information that had been received earlier and was in direct contradiction to Lombardi’s earlier pronouncement that the program was still operational.

O'Rourke Levels New Charges against Ricci & Zambarano

At this point of the investigation it seemed that every day brought new allegations or rumors. On March 24th, GoLocalProv.com, an Internet blog/news outlet, wrote of an exclusive interview with Jack O'Rourke, owner of the former Picasso Pizza & Pub/Bottoms Up/Scores/Barrells and the several other names he operated under in the Fruit Hill Plaza. 

In a seemingly unreported twist of a previously reported allegation, O'Rourke accused John Zambarano and Robert Ricci of intimidation in awarding a job for carpet installation in O'Rourke's establishment. Before opening his business, O'Rourke claimed, he was approached by then Council President Robert Ricci who said, “Myself and John Zambarano have a rug company called Zam's Carpeting...and we'd like to carpet your place.” O'Rourke recalls telling Ricci that he had no problem with that but wanted to get some price quotes. The article described Ricci’s tactics noting his response to O’Rourke’s desire to get additional quotes. “Well it would be good,” Ricci allegedly said, “because I'm the councilman at large and John Zambarano is your councilman in your district.” Looking back, O'Rourke said he felt he was being “strong-armed.” When all the prices came in relatively close, he decided to hire Zam's Carpeting for the job. He paid $3,577.26 for what he considered to be very professional work. In fact, O'Rourke was so impressed with the work that he “sung their praises to a Providence Journal reporter” who wrote a feature on his establishment.

According to O'Rourke, that's when Zambarano and Ricci threatened him. Rather than appreciating the publicity, Zambarano confronted O'Rourke's business partner, John Davone, at Citizens Bank on Smith Street and said, “Could you tell Jack with his big mouth talking about Zam's Carpeting that he's going to have more problems than you can believe.” When O'Rourke himself had a chance meeting with Ricci, the councilman allegedly said, “Don't forget one thing – I control it [referring to the Town Council]. Anytime I want, I can pull your license.” The apparent implication was that Zambarano and Ricci didn't want anyone to know that they had been hired to do the carpeting work at the establishment. That contract alone may have constituted a violation of Rhode Island's Ethics laws because Zambarano and Ricci had taken part in many Council votes concerning the establishment without providing proper disclosures of their business involvement with the establishment. 

O'Rourke contended that his press statement was the beginning of his years-long problems with the Council that eventually led to his putting the business in receivership. It was ultimately auctioned off, but not before O'Rourke and his partner lost their $700,000 investment. When the Council finally voted to revoke his liquor license, O'Rourke contends, Zambarano voted for the revocation while Ricci recused himself from the vote. “They took my retirement away,” O'Rourke said of Ricci and Zambarano. “It makes me sick what happened to him because Jack really is one of the good guys and he lost everything he had fighting for his business,” Nick Hemond, a political communications consultant, is reported as telling GoLocalProv.com. 

O'Rourke discussed his situation with the FBI and believes that he is the one who got the ball rolling in the investigations that led to the indictments of Zambarano and Ricci. The FBI naturally would neither confirm nor deny his allegations.

The Trial of a Bagman

I was having lunch with my wife in Blake's Pub in Providence when I got the call from Jim Pitcavage advising me that the government was going to start preparing witnesses for the trial of Bob Ciresi. It was now late March and the trial was scheduled for jury selection on April 14, 2011. Jim asked if I could meet with the U.S. Attorney on Thursday April 7th from 9 A.M. To 12 Noon? I had more questions than I did answers at that point. “What could I possibly say at Ciresi's trial that could help the government's case,” I asked, “I never spoke to Ciresi.” Jim said I would be asked simply to identify voices on the tapes and that cross examination would be limited to the questions I was asked under examination by prosecutors. Well I figured I could handle that! “Of course, I can be there,” I told him. Although the government was beginning to prepare its case for trial, Jim was still of the opinion that Ciresi would plead before then. 

A few years back when Ciresi's son Michael, a North Providence Police Officer, was indicted for various crimes, the inside word was that he was offered a plea bargain that would have spared him jail time and limited his punishment to home confinement and probation. At his father's urging, the story goes, he rejected the plea and opted instead to go to trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years at the Adult Correctional Institution. If the story were true, I thought, then there would be no way in hell that Bobby Ciresi would agree to plead his case out. While I felt strongly that the case would proceed to trial, I still held out the slimmest of hopes that I would be spared the drama.

On March 31st, the Associated Press reported that Ciresi intended not to testify at his own trial. In fact, on Wednesday, March 30th, his attorney filed a pretrial memorandum arguing that taped conversations involving John Zambarano be declared inadmissible since Zambarano wouldn't be available for cross-examination. Why, I wondered, would Zambarano not be available for cross-examination? I considered his testimony crucial to the prosecution since he is the only person that can testify that Ciresi delivered the bribe money to him. My answer came later when I learned that Zambarano’s cooperation and plea agreement included a provision that he would not have to testify against Ciresi at trial.

Ciresi's attorney appeared in court before Judge Lisi for a pretrial conference on the 4th of April. Attorney John Cicillini, father of the former mayor of Providence and current Congressman from Rhode Island’s first congressional district, requested a delay in the jury selection saying that prosecutors refused to identify the particular transcripts that they intended to present at trial. Cicillini jousted with Lisi when she opined that the defense was not entitled to that information saying that he disagreed based on his citation of an appellate case. 

Cicillini also requested more time to obtain expert witnesses to dispute the testimony of two cell phone experts that the prosecution intended to call to explain how they were able to determine that Ciresi was within 1 mile of Antonio's Restaurant at the time that Zambarano placed the call to him as the councilman waited for Ciresi to deliver the bribe money on the evening of February 10, 2010. The FBI will testify that shortly after the call, a car registered to Ciresi's wife and driven by an older, white male, pulled alongside Zambarano's car and pulled away 3 minutes later. In addition, prosecutors intend to have admitted into evidence several tape recorded conversations in which Zambarano “makes it clear that he considers Ciresi to be an effective and viable member of the conspiracy...” and establish Ciresi as someone who can help in the collection of the bribes in exchange for favorable votes on the various projects. 

In addition to the three plus hours that I spent with U.S. Attorney John McAdams on April 7, 2011, I was asked to report back on April 13th and 14th when I spent another 5 hours in their office reviewing the case details. I learned that without cooperation agreements from the other conspirators, my testimony would be crucial in having the audio and videotapes admitted as evidence in the trial. Since much of the case's strength lied in the admissibility of those tapes, my testimony would be relied on heavily.

As the sun rose on April 20th, I thought of far better ways to spend my wife's birthday than testifying at the corruption trial of Bob Ciresi. I'm sure Margie did as well. In retrospect however, I recall that I was responsible for providing more mundane ways of celebrating some of her previous birthdays. Margie and I reminisced about her birthday in 1995, for example, when after a long day's work, I dragged her to a DARE graduation (an anti-drug program for youth conducted by the police in schools) at which I was the keynote speaker and then to a dinner at a senior citizen complex in my Council district at which I was named their man of the year. At least the trial day would end at 4:30 giving us the rest of the night to celebrate! 

I sat on a bench outside the courtroom door and was soon joined by John Fleming. After a few minutes, witness coordinator Gayle James directed us to the witness room. We fumbled for things to talk about that weren't trial related until Ms. James occupied our time with the completion of paperwork. 

While we waited, the two lawyers gave their opening statements. U.S. Attorney Terrance Donnelly told the jury that the case is about “greed and the corruption it breeds.” He accused Ciresi of helping “three utterly corrupt councilmen” who were “on the prowl” for payoffs over a lengthy period of time. He described how four agents of the FBI followed John Zambarano from the site of the vote on the Stop & Shop zone change to the Cranston restaurant parking lot where the exchange of money took place. It was in this parking lot, Donnelly noted, that Zambarano met with an “older white man behind the wheel of a vehicle registered to Ciresi's wife.”

For his part, Cicillini noted that none of the evidence that the prosecution will present shows his client. You will not hear his voice on the audiotapes nor see his face on the videotapes and photographs. The entire case, he argued, is circumstantial. 

The opening statements were followed by Judge Lisi's instructions to the jury and then it was “showtime.”

John was first up and described the Town’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance and then elaborated on how the Council might go about making changes to each of those documents. Forty-five minutes later it was my turn. I could feel my legs start to betray me as I made my way past the observers, the attorneys, the defendant and the jury. I struggled to “push” open the “pull” door of the witness box, took my place behind the low mahogany wall and was sworn in. At this point I was having a hard time remembering my own name, but as soon as Assistant U.S. Attorney John McAdams began his questioning, I calmed down. Over a four hour period I listened to recorded phone calls and meetings and identified the voices of the participants. 

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Of the 41 tapes that were played for the jury, four were most damaging to Ciresi's defense. The first was a videotape showing Zambarano handing me the $4,000 payoff for voting in favor of the Stop & Shop zone and comprehensive plan change. The second was an audio recording of Burchfield telling me, “Christmas comes, you'll know it.” In yet another audiotape Zambarano explained that the developer’s choice of Ciresi as their attorney for the Lyman Mill was “icing on the cake.” The fourth recording was an audio of Zambarano telling me how Ciresi told him to be careful in asking for a bribe in the Lyman Mill zoning. In that recording Zambarano is heard saying about Ciresi, “Bobby, You've done this a thousand times, why are you so worried this time, do you know something I don't know.” I answered questions that were politely asked by the prosecutor all the time dreading the cross examination by defense lawyer John Cicillini.

Most everyone knew of Cicillini's reputation for challenging the integrity of prosecution witnesses and I was prepared for the worse. My moment arrived all too soon. By midday I felt myself coming under the dreaded attack of the defense. Cicillini wasted no time going on the offensive. He questioned my motives for going to the FBI and challenged my integrity by implying that I was nothing more than a malcontent who complained about everything. He quizzed me about the meaning of several of the recorded conversations, but each question was followed by an objection by the Assistant U.S. Attorney. Almost all of the objections were sustained based on Judge Lisi's ruling that the transcripts of the recorded conversations were not admitted into evidence and could not be used as the basis for questioning. A frustrated Cicillini continued to catch a beating from the Judge until it was time to adjourn for the day.

The second day of the trial began with Judge Lisi calling me back to the witness stand. Cicillini still did not seem to fully comprehend the basis for the Judge’s rulings and continued to ask me about the transcripts. Finally, after a series of sidebars, he was told that if he wanted to question the content of the recordings, he would have to play the audiotapes. In response he asked the prosecution to play a certain tape. The Assistant U.S. Attorney quickly objected saying it was not his job to play tapes for the defense. The Judge agreed and I was dismissed until the defense could get their copies of the tapes in order. 

While I was back in the witness room, FBI agent Hess, an expert in the use of technological equipment, testified as to how agents were able to know Ciresi's location based on a cell-to-cell phone call between Zambarano and Ciresi. The prosecution team must have felt that his testimony was compelling because they dismissed Paul Bianco, an employee from AT&T, who was waiting to offer the same information. This time Kevin O’Sullivan and Vin Coccoli, two of the developers who were forced to pay the bribe money in exchange for the Town Council’s favorable vote on the Lyman Mill project, joined me in the witness room. It was clear from the outset that O'Sullivan was not my biggest fan. Coccoli compensated for O’Sullivan’s lack of affection for me. We had become friendly after the May arrests when I met with Coccoli and his partner Lesa Nash to help them with information regarding some of the town permits they needed to complete as part of the Lyman Mill conversion project. By the end of the day, O'Sullivan himself seemed to warm up to me. 

The witness room discussion with the two developers was as revealing as some of the intrigue I had been involved with. O'Sullivan insisted that North Providence was no different than other R.I. municipalities he dealt with saying that he was shaken down in Johnston and Woonsocket as well. His pessimistic view of ever achieving success in changing the system was obvious. “You get these three guys,” he said referring to Douglas, Zambarano and Burchfield, “and three more just like them take their place. I paid $400,000 out-of-pocket for environmental studies at the job sites. Do I walk away from that because I have to pay another $75,000? It's just the cost of another permit. It’s the cost of doing business.” 

After about 3 hours of waiting, O'Sullivan was called to the stand. His primary purpose for being called was to identify the people whose image appeared in some 61 photographs that were presented into evidence by the prosecution. Among others, some photographs showed O'Sullivan meeting Imondi in the parking lot of the Home Depot to give him a manila envelope containing $21,000 that Imondi used to provide a down payment to the corrupt councilmen on the promised $75,000 payoff for the Lyman Mill zone change. Other sequences showed Imondi making the cash payment to Burchfield while Douglas sat in his car in the parking lot of the Cadillac Lounge and then Burchfield kissing Imondi in appreciation for all his hard work as a middleman. Another showed the three councilmen standing outside Andino's Restaurant on Federal Hill where they had just met to discuss the details of how they would receive their bribe money. As Cicillini pointed out during his cross-examination, none of those damaging photos featured his client. 

When O'Sullivan finished, I was asked to once again take the stand. This time Cicillini played one of the audiotapes that featured a conversation between me and Zambarano. One segment of the tape seemed to indicate to Cicillini that Zambarano was going to meet with Baccari rather than Ciresi to receive his payoff. Cicillini tried hard to get me to agree that Zambarano was referencing Baccari, but I just didn't see it that way. As if by rote, McAdams objected and obviously frustrated by the judge’s rulings, Cicillini dismissed me with a look of disgust.

The government rested its case following the testimony of Vin Coccoli who took the stand as I departed the courtroom. Coccoli told the court that he met with Douglas and Burchfield at the Lyman Mill site and was asked to relay to Kevin O’Sullivan their intentions to seek a bribe. O'Sullivan subsequently complied with their demand. 

The defense strategy was to call only two witnesses to the stand. The first was FBI agent Jeff Cady who testified that he had “taken notes and recorded times as he operated his car and listened to his colleagues reports over a Nextel radio system,” on the night that Ciresi was accused of delivering the bribe money from Baccari to Zambarano. Cicillini tried to discredit the accuracy of some of his notes without apparent success. 

The second witness, Providence Police Detective John R. Whalen, testified that he and the team had not photographed or videotaped the exchange of bribe money out of concern for the flash of light that might have been created thereby blowing their cover. Within an hour, the defense also rested its case. 

Closing arguments began on Monday April 25th followed by Judge Lisi's instructions to the jury. While there was nothing remarkable in the closing arguments, McAdams did use the opportunity to counter Cicillini’s claim that Ciresi refused to participate in the scheme by telling the jurors that “Ciresi had participated [in the conspiracy] by referring the councilman to Imondi, by helping them scout O’Sullivan and by declining to tip off authorities or his own clients, O’Sullivan and Baccari.” 

Lisi instructed the jury to consider circumstantial evidence just as important a piece of the puzzle as direct evidence. The difference is that the jury would need to put the circumstantial evidence together before seeing the puzzle compared to direct evidence where the puzzle becomes obvious with the facts. Deliberations began just after lunch, but the first day came to an end without word on jury’s progress.

 Tuesday April 26th dawned a beautiful morning. Outside of Federal Court, the cloudless, deep blue sky served as a backdrop to the trees just starting to bud green in Burnside Park where birds chirped and spring flowers showed their bloom. For the 12 men and woman of the jury, the spring splendor was interrupted by the call to the dreariness of the jury room where each assembled at 9:30 A.M. At about 11:30, less than six hours after they first began their discussions, the jury of eight men and four women emerged with a verdict.

In courtroom #1, Ciresi, in his trademark dark gray suit, white shirt and red tie, talked nervously with Cicillini as the pair waited for the jury to arrive. Before long, the 77-year old defendant stood “passively” next to his attorney as the jury foreman announced the verdict. 

As to count one, extortion – GUILTY. 

As to count two, bribery – GUILTY. 

As to count three, conspiracy – GUILTY. 

 

The courtroom was silent. Ciresi turned to his daughter Mary June, who was sitting in the courtroom behind him where she had been throughout the trial, and simply shrugged his shoulders in disbelief. Judge Lisi released Ciresi to await sentencing on July 28th at which time he faced a maximum of 35 years in prison. 

As Ciresi turned to leave the courtroom he stoically hugged a teary-eyed Mary June saying softly, “It's all right.” Outside, he walked briskly past reporters and television cameras saying only “no” when asked if he had any comment. Cicillini, on the other hand, told the entourage that he was very disappointed by the outcome. “The evidence,” he said, “simply does not support the verdict.” He vowed there would be an appeal as a silent Ciresi entered the passenger side of a waiting small white car that quickly drove off.

Almost immediately following the courtroom drama, U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha, accompanied by Terrance Donnally, John McAdam and Jim Pitcavage, held a press conference praising the jury's decision. “The message we take from this verdict today is that no matter what their role in public corruption: whether the bag man, the middle man, a lawyer who helps get it done or the public official, this office will aggressively prosecute them. We'll keep working as hard as we can to bring them to justice.” Neronha also acknowledged my role in the process. 

“Without people like Paul Caranci, we are not able to do these kind of cases. Mr. Caranci has my thanks, and he should have the thanks of all the people in North Providence and the State of Rhode Island. As we all know public corruption is an issue in the State of Rhode Island, and without good people like Mr. Caranci, trial teams like the one that worked this case can't take it on.”

The Ciresi trial marked the first time that my role in the investigation was confirmed. Although now in the open, Jim asked me to continue to decline comment so as not to disrupt other investigations that continue in town and Neronha declined to comment on questions regarding any plans to charge Baccari and O'Sullivan, the two developers who agreed to pay the bribe money. 

Richard DesLauriers, a special agent of the FBI's Field Office located in Boston added, “The FBI is committed to holding accountable those that facilitate the illegal acts of public officials. Not only did Robert Ciresi facilitate the criminal activity of elected officials, he also violated his oath as an attorney to pursue justice. The guilty verdict represents a successful effort by the FBI to level the playing field in the State of Rhode Island.”

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

 

Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s History of Political Corruption

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Buddy Cianci

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

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

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Joseph Bevilacqua

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

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

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

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

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Thomas Fay

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

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

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

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Brian J. Sarault

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

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

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

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Edward DiPrete

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

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

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

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Plunder Dome

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

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

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

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

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

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N. Providence Councilmen

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

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

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Charles Moreau

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

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

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

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Joe Almeida

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

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Gordon Fox

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

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

 
 

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