Wired: 2011 Part 3, A Book by Paul Caranci
Monday, July 10, 2017
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May We at Least Pick Our Prison…Please!
With their fates all but sealed, two of the political convicts turned their attention to prison placement. It is customary in some instances for someone headed off to federal prison to request a placement close to home and sometimes, with extenuating circumstances, those requests may be honored. Buddy Cianci had made the same request prior to his imprisonment because he wanted to stay close to his daughter who depended on him for so much. Certainly, each of the three convicted councilmen had young families and a request for local placement would not be considered unusual.
Yet Zambarano never made such a request leading to further speculation that he had cut a prison assignment deal with authorities in exchange for providing information. Placement requests were received on behalf of Douglas and Burchfield however. Each requested placement at the Fort Devens federal prison camp in Ayer, Massachusetts. Fort Devens is the only facility of this type for men in the New England area.
Edward Roy noted that such a placement would make it easier for Burchfield’s elderly parents to visit him adding “Devens has the capacity to treat ‘mental-health issues’ that Burchfield suffers from.” Roy noted that Assistant U.S. Attorney Terrence Donnelly did not object to the motion.
Similarly, Bill Dimitri made the same request on behalf of Douglas noting that Douglas requires “a nightly sleeping apparatus to prevent the erosion of his health.” Although not elaborating on the specifics, Dimitri noted that Fort Devens has a medical center on its campus.
Apparently the health issues suffered by Burchfield and Douglas did not overly move Judge Lisi. On May 30th she wrote what Zachary Malinowski of the Providence Journal described as “separate terse decisions” regarding the placement of the two ex-officials. “This Court does not make recommendations of specific facilities to the Bureau of Prisons,” Lisi wrote. “The Bureau of Prisons will make its own classification and determination of a suitable facility.” The Bureau of Prisons subsequently ignored the specific placement requests in their entirety when the prison assignments were finally issued.
Three Former Lawmakers Head to Prison
Life in a federal prison can conjure up different images in the minds of different people. There are actually many different forms of incarceration within the federal prison system. Unlike a formal federal prison where prisoners live behind bars in small cells, a prison camp has a less formal structure.
In a federal prison inmates are housed in small quarters and confined behind bars. They are allowed limited, planned and supervised time outside of the cage. Permission is needed to leave the cell for any reason and treatment by prison staff is generally impersonal and cold.
A prison camp, on the other hand, houses inmates in dorm-style rooms of up to 6 to 10 men. There is very limited security. There are no bars on windows and no barbed-wire fences surrounding the perimeter of the prison property. Inmates are allowed to roam the grounds freely and unsupervised for unlimited amounts of time. This is referred to as non-controlled movement.
A prison camp is generally reserved for those who commit non-violent, white-collar crimes such as bank fraud, IRS fraud and small drug related crimes. Ed Bales, the Managing Director of Federal Prison Consultants, LLC notes that a prison camp is a very “peaceful place to do your time,” but is quick to add, “It is still a prison.” It is not a place where most people would choose to spend their time!
In the days preceding Ciresi’s sentencing, all four of the other convicted felons were given their prison assignments. It was now time to relinquish their liberty and begin repaying their debt to society.
Burchfield was the first to report on Sunday June 5th after being driven to the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland by close friend and state representative Gregory Schadone. Liberty isn’t the only thing you sacrifice when you enter a prison system. Your very identity is left at the door. There is no longer a personalization in dress and even your name is replaced with a set of numbers that becomes your official moniker during confinement inside the prison walls.
The Cumberland facility is located about 90 miles northwest of Washington, DC, and approximately 500 miles from the Town Hall from which he participated in bribery, extortion and other corrupt schemes. The prison is “an appropriate facility, given Joe’s lack of a violent history and the fact that it’s a white-collar offense,” said Burchfield’s attorney Ed Roy. He then quickly added, “That’s his [Burchfield’s] view as well.” Roy said that the Maryland facility is equipped to provide for Burchfield’s medical needs including his mental health and substance abuse issues.
Once you’ve been arrested for a federal crime, there can be some difficult days. Days that include arraignments, interrogations, holding cells, embarrassing allocutions, trials, convictions, appeals - none of these days are pleasant, but at the end of each of those days you still get to go home; home to familiar surroundings, home to a family that loves and supports you. The hardest day of all is the day you report to prison. Former Cicero Town Council President Berry Moore Maltese described her experience saying, “Cloths, sleeping quarters and schedule are all a shock, but nothing compared to the regular strip searches. After the first strip search your whole life changes. You realize that your body is not yours anymore.”
Prisoner 07661-070, as Burchfield was now known, was about to find out. He was about to begin what was to be his new life, at least for the next 5 years. During that time his only regular contact with the outside world would be his nightly phone calls home. It takes anywhere from 3 weeks to a month for personal visits to begin and even those would be severely restricted. Prisoners can earn points based on behavior. Every visit, according to frequency and length, reduces those points. When the point balance is zero, visits terminate. Maltese summed it up saying, “Prison is all about dealing with feelings of alienation and banishment from society.” Burchfield’s banishment was just beginning.
The 334-bed, all-male minimum-security prison camp, surrounded by the Appalachian Mountain ridges, consists of two-story cinderblock dormitories. Burchfield could share a dorm with 5 inmates many of whom are drug offenders. Wake up call is at 6:00 A.M. and prisoners work 5 days a week starting at lower level food service jobs and then moving up to more desirable jobs. Burchfield can earn between 12 and 40 cents an hour. His free time might be spent reading in the prison library, working out in the gym or watching television in the common room.
Shortly after arriving at Cumberland, Burchfield met inmate #84888-054, Bernard B. Kerik as he was known on the outside. Kerik was a former New York City police commissioner who ran afoul of the law. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on June 30, 2006 on charges of tax fraud and making false statements. On November 5, 2009, Kerik pleaded guilty to eight felony charges and entered the minimum security prison camp in Cumberland, Maryland on May 17, 2010.
The two became friends despite an age difference of about 20 years. They would often walk the track together and Kerik found the younger Burchfield to be a “compassionate and decent man: helping others when they arrived in the camp; looking out for the men in his cube; teaching parenting and AA classes.”
Later, Burchfield “stopped walking and switched to a cross-fitness regimen with some other inmates, doing high-intensity powerlifting, gymnastics, and calisthenics. Because the exercise equipment was so limited, Joe and the guys had to do a lot of improvising…Joe lost sixty [pounds] and of the three hundred guys in Cumberland, he might have been in the best shape.”
Kerik believes that prison sentences are sometimes too harsh and points to Burchfield as an example of over-punishment. “To my mind,” Kerik said, “Burchfield didn’t need to be imprisoned for five years to be taught the error of his ways. He learned parts of his lesson the day he was arrested, then facing public humiliation, then surrendering to federal prison to be strip-searched and put into prison living conditions. And still after that, five more years in the nothingness.” Kerik noted that upon entering prison a fellow inmate described the experience of life in Cumberland by saying, “This is like dying with your eyes open.” Prior to his imprisonment Kerik “had never considered this. Now I too felt the pain and horror of being cut off from the outside world, including those you love and anyone or anything that depended on you. No matter what problem or emergency might arise, no matter how devastating a circumstance might be for your family and children, the only thing you can do from prison is watch their suffering from afar and pray for them to get through it on their own.”
Those sentiments were shared by former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff who was convicted of casino crimes in 1996 and later political crimes. He was one of the prison’s more infamous inmates. Prisoner #27593-112, as Abramoff was known in prison, served a total of 43 months in Cumberland and was released on December 3, 2010. He offered this perspective of a politician’s life in the federal prison.
“I didn't have a clue what to expect in prison. I didn't know anybody who had gone to prison. Nevertheless it was horrific, from minute one to the last minute. You're confined, you have no privacy, there's capricious stealing by the staff and by the inmates. Your property and anything that's of value to you is constantly at risk. Sleep is very difficult in that environment. Getting an hour or two of sleep in a row is often very, very difficult. It's horrible. And of course you have no control over your life. Particularly for somebody who is in the public life, that is particularly bad because the inmates and everybody around you and your family on the outside are hearing all sorts of things and you have no ability to affect the narrative in any way.
Speaking of imprisoned public officials Abramoff continued, “His status [as a politician] won't afford him any measure of grandeur over any other prisoner. In fact, it may cause him to have a few moments of discomfort. The prison system is full -- both on the inmate and staff level -- of some people who resent people who have had success in life. To the degree that he is able to keep his head down, get his time served as quietly as possible, that would probably benefit him very much. The only way to deal with that is to just keep your head down, be humble, be obedient, follow every rule and just be as courteous and unassuming and unprepossessing as you can. That's the only way around it.
The old adage that you serve only your first and last day in prison is untrue. No. No. You serve every second in prison. But no matter how bad it is, it could be worse. You could be in a prison where people are getting raped and killed all the time. You could be in a prison in another country being sadistically tortured. There are all sorts of things that could be going on that are worse.
How do you survive? Yeah, I mean, basically, stay busy. Prisoners do different things. Some write, some read. Some engage in athletic events and working out and some do all of that. Some get involved in the religious groups that they're part of. Some get involved in hobbies that are permitted in prison. There are plenty of ways to stay busy. The most important thing is to stay busy. One of the dangers for white-collar prisoners is they get in there and they're so stunned by this new world and they reflect on their old world, and it puts them into a depressing mode that sort of leaves them almost catatonic and they don't get going.”
June 9, 2011, just two days after Burchfield reported to prison in Maryland, Zambarano began serving his 71-month sentence at the Petersburg Correctional Complex in Virginia, 25 miles southeast of Richmond ending speculation that he reached an accord on prison accommodations. According to Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the prison complex includes a low security prison with a satellite camp facility. There is also a medium security prison on site. Zambarano, now known as inmate 07662-070, reported to the camp facility, which was opened in 1978. There he and the other 692 inmates may receive visitors on weekends and federal holidays between the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 3:00 p.m. Work assignments may include labor at the unicorn furniture-refurbishing factory and free time might be spent playing basketball, handball or racquetball on one of the outdoor courts, lifting weights or working on crafts or hobbies.
One inmate described Petersburg as a facility with an “outward appearance of a college campus.” While the recreational facilities are good, the cafeteria is not. “If you’re not the first to eat, the soda fountain is empty. The food is bland with occasional surprises,” he said.
On Monday, June 27th, Ray Douglas (prisoner 07660-070) and Ed Imondi (inmate 08209-070) began the adjustment to their new prison environments. Douglas reported to a satellite of the Schuylkill Federal Correction Institution, a minimum-security prison camp in Minersville, Pennsylvania located about 46 miles east of Harrisburg. Imondi, the middleman and bagman in the Lyman Mill extortion and bribery scheme, was taken into custody at a satellite of the U.S. Penitentiary-Canaan, another minimum-security prison camp. This facility is located about 20 miles east of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Getting Hit by the Shrapnel
Throughout the time that the five co-conspirators were learning their fate and reporting to prison, those indicted and charged as a result of the wiretaps that exposed the Zambarano insurance fraud scheme were having a change of heart regarding their earlier not-guilty pleas.
The first to admit guilt was the 49-year old former Lite 105 radio personality, Lori Sergiacomi, aka Tanya Cruise. As a result of her admission the Emerson College graduate faced the possibility of being sentenced to serve 85 years in prison with fines totaling $1.25 million. Sergiacomi’s attorney William P. Devereaux submitted a pre-sentence report that described her as “a giving, yet gullible person who got caught up in a scheme masterminded by others.” He noted how Sergiacomi “has suffered greatly by being known as a convicted felon and losing a job to which she dedicated her life,” according to records. Sergiacomi maintains that as soon as she was charged Citadel Broadcasting promptly fired her from a position that she held for 17 years. The report suggests that she was treated unfairly because the “company has hired and retained radio personalities with felony convictions.”
In addition Devereaux’s report requests that Sergiacomi, as a single woman, should be spared prison time because she “cares for a very ill and elderly dog, one of two dogs that have been her constant companions.” Finally, the report suggests that Sergiacomi has financial problems and should not be subjected to fines resulting from her conviction. Those financial problems were compounded, Devereaux claims, when a loan she co-signed for a work supervisor’s daughter was defaulted.
Because of her cooperation the government agreed to recommend a sentence at the lower end of the sentencing guidelines, which in her case is four months in prison to be followed by four months in a halfway house. The U.S. Attorney, in his own pre-sentence report, said that the crimes that Sergiacomi committed were not spontaneous but rather took place over an extended period of time providing her “ample opportunity” to step aside. Instead of doing the right thing, Sergiacomi “jumped in with both feet” and sought to exploit a natural disaster, the floods of March 2010, for her own financial benefit and gain. Her plea agreement included the repayment of $40,012.
After Sergiacomi’s change of plea hearing a few weeks earlier Devereaux had told reporters outside the courthouse that his client was “extremely remorseful. I think it’s an abhorrent incident in an otherwise law-abiding life,” he said. Noting that “she was never involved in North Providence politics” Devereaux blamed Zambarano for “leading Sergiacomi in the wrong direction when she sought his guidance after the March 2010 flood had inundated her basement,” according to a news report filed by Mark Reynolds of the Providence Journal. “Sergiacomi had actually filled out an application for loan assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but Zambarano talked her into seeking payments from the insurance company” instead. Devereaux told of Sergiacomi’s desire to move on with her life. He acknowledged the tremendous toll the entire incident had on his client who, in addition to losing her job, was still living with the damage inflicted on her home by Zambarano and Ricci.
Next to change his plea was former North Providence Council President Robert A. Ricci. Initially denying involvement in a scam to deliberately damage a house belonging to Lori Sergiacomi so as to defraud an insurance company, the 50-year old former state hearing officer stood before Judge Lisi and admitted his role in the conspiracy. Understanding that he could be sentenced to a maximum of 105 years in a federal prison, Ricci stood stoically next to his attorney, C. Leonard O’Brien, as he quietly acknowledged his guilt in the elaborate scheme.
Ricci smiled broadly but had nothing to say as he and O’Brien left the courthouse heading into a gauntlet of reporters. O’Brien stopped long enough to note his client’s “limited role” in the fraudulent activity. “Nonetheless he stepped up and acknowledged responsibility for a criminal act. He’ll be back here in August to accept his punishment and in the meantime he’s going to do the very best he can to make up to the people, the state of Rhode Island and to his family for what he did and try to rebuild his life,” O’Brien said.
Despite the magnanimity in his proclamation of Ricci’s acceptance of responsibility, O’Brien still submitted a memorandum to Judge Lisi requesting leniency for Ricci’s role in the insurance fraud plot noting that he played a minor role in a scheme concocted by Zambarano and DiPaolo. O’Brien requested a four–month probation sentence during which Ricci would serve home confinement. He also suggested a maximum fine of $1,000. “O’Brien described Ricci as a dedicated family man who has worked hard since he began helping at his father’s restaurant at age 11,” according to a report filed by Katie Mulvaney of the Providence Journal.
“He lives modestly with his wife of 26 years and his adult son and is known for unsolicited acts of kindness and generosity. As a result of his crime, he resigned from his position as a hearing officer, a job that held importance to him. The loss of that job and trying to find construction work in a struggling economy will leave the family financially pinched, he wrote in asking for minimal fines to be imposed.”
The government didn’t disagree with Ricci’s assertion that he was the least culpable in this particular plot, but it still maintained the significance of Ricci’s actions. Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry McAdams described how Ricci used his position of regulatory oversight that his employment as a hearing officer with the State’s Contractor Registration Board provided him saying that “by engaging in fraud, no matter how minor his role, he undermined his agency’s credibility and contributed to the culture of cynicism prevalent in Rhode Island.” Prosecutors asked Lisi to impose a sentence of four months imprisonment to be followed by a period of supervised release. Such a sentence “sends the message that however ‘minor’ one’s role in a conspiracy of this sort, there will still be a loss of liberty,” McAdams wrote in his sentencing memorandum.
In addition to a potential stay in prison, Ricci faced the payment of fines that totaled $1,250,000 and up to 15 years of supervised release upon the conclusion of a prison term. Ricci could also be required to pay $500 in mandatory special assessments.
The last holdout in the insurance fraud scheme, 62-year old Vincent O. DiPaolo, agreed to change his plea to guilty on August 2, 2011 prompting the government to agree to recommend a prison term at the lower end of the sentencing guidelines. Even the reduced penalty could have landed DiPaolo in prison for up to 85 years. The unlicensed insurance adjustor and owner of VDP United Consultants, Inc. stood before Judge Lisi a week later on August 9th and pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to defraud an insurance company by lying to an insurance adjustor in the Zambarano/Sergiacomi fraud scam. Like the others, the charges to which he pleaded guilty included four counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy.
During the change of plea hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Donnelly informed the judge that DiPaolo had advised Sergiacomi that her insurance claim could include a desk that had actually been damaged years earlier. “Put down $1,500 to $1,800, something like that,” he told her insisting that she not get too greedy. “Go low, go low, OK,” Sergiacomi replied. As part of the plea deal, DiPaolo agreed to pay $40,012 in restitution.
Ricci, Sergiacomi & DiPaolo Face Judge Lisi One Last Time
The six-day period from August 23rd to August 28th, 2011 was quite out of the ordinary for many Rhode Islanders. It began with a rare east coast earthquake that was centered in Virginia about 80 miles south of Washington DC. Measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale, the tremors were strong enough to be felt in the Ocean State causing the evacuation of the State House, the Providence City Hall and many other buildings located in downtown Providence where the occupants reported that they could feel the swaying motion of the buildings. It ended with the catastrophic winds and torrential rains of Tropical Storm Irene whose center made landfall just east of the state slamming into the Rhode Island coast with a fury not experienced in this area in over 20 years.
For Bob Ricci and Lori Sergiacomi, however, the days between the exhibits of nature’s fury would provide anxiety of another sort. On Thursday August 25th each stood before Judge Lisi to hear the sentence she would impose on them for their part in the insurance fraud scheme concocted by John Zambarano and Vincent DiPaolo.
Bob Ricci entered the federal building at 12:45 p.m. with his attorney C. Leonard O’Brien. In one of those awkward Rhode Island moments the two intercepted the closing doors of the elevator that waited to take me to Judge Lisi’s 3rd floor courtroom. As we shared the otherwise empty car, Bob and I exchanged a quiet greeting then stood in silence for the remainder of the ride. Once in court, Ricci talked easily with his attorneys often smiling and gesturing freely with his hands. His somber look returned, however, as Judge Lisi entered the courtroom.
After each side gave their opinion of what a just punishment would be Lisi asked Ricci if he had anything to say. “I do, your honor,” Ricci intoned in an uncharacteristically soft voice. As he stood the Judge asked if he had written the letter she received in his name. He acknowledged authorship and Lisi spoke of how refreshing it was to receive a letter of that tone, acknowledging his actions and taking full responsibility for them. One can only imagine what words Ricci chose in his remorseful treatise, but one can’t deny that it had the intended affect.
Judge Lisi, usually hard and fast on white-collar criminals of this sort, described the torment that Ricci has already suffered. She spoke of his loss of a quality job with a handsome salary, his primary source of income, as well as the loss of a pension that he and his family were probably close to taking advantage of. She eloquently stated how prison was probably not the best sentence for a person who has otherwise suffered the loss of some $5,000 for a roofing job on the Sergiacomi home. Despite having paid for the materials and performed the labor to replace the roof, the likelihood of payment was bleak she said. She discussed the loss of his reputation and the shame that the crime has caused him and his family – something Ricci already apologized for before the court. She reiterated the contention of both the government and the defense that Ricci played a minor role in the scheme and stood to profit very little from it. She intoned, “You made a very poor choice by getting on the train with these people.” Judge Lisi then instructed Ricci to stand as he received his sentence of two years of probation with the first four months to be served on home confinement. In addition, Ricci was given 200 hours of community service and required to pay the minimum fine of $1,000 and $500 in fees. Ricci smiled broadly and shook his attorney’s hands as the Judge departed the courtroom.
Shortly after Ricci left the federal building Judge Lisi’s courtroom was abuzz again. This time it was Lori Sergiacomi who stood for sentencing. With her attorney William Devereaux by her side she apologized to the court for her participation in the fraudulent scheme noting, “the last seven months have been a personal hell for me.” Judge Lisi took into consideration Sergiacomi’s “many good deeds” and her “lack of criminal record” as noted by her attorney who also said her participation in this scheme was an aberration. Recognizing Sergiacomi’s greater role in the conspiracy and the several months she had to change her mind before signing the fraudulent insurance claim, however, Lisi indicated that the sentence would be harsher than that imposed on Ricci a few hours earlier. Unlike Ricci, Sergiacomi “was at the heart of this scheme,” Lisi said as she sentenced Sergiacomi to three years of probation with the first four months to be served in the McGrath House, a 30-bed halfway house serving female offenders in Boston, Massachusetts. The initial incarceration would be followed by four additional months of electronically monitored home confinement. In addition to paying the cost of her own monitoring, Sergiacomi was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $40,012.68 as well as $2,000 in fines and $500 in mandatory fees. Like Ricci, she was also ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.
While not a prison, life at McGrath is not pleasant and might still be considered imprisonment by those who reside there. Activists, educators and clergy founded the facility in 1878 with the goal of educating “the public about the causes of crime, advance public morality, and assist discharged prisoners,” according to its website. At McGrath the women are connected with counseling, drug treatment, education and employment training.” Inmates are granted “structured independence,” and can sometimes leave the facility to visit family or work, but they must check in by phone every two hours.According to center inmates, adjustment to life at McGrath can be difficult. One woman said, “I would rather poke needles in my eye than to be here.” Another said she spent her first two days at McGrath crying!
Last to face the judge for sentencing was Vincent O. DiPaolo of Johnston. Despite having lost his insurance license several years earlier, DiPaolo profited $4,000 for his role in the insurance scheme. He appeared before Judge Lisi on the last day of November 2011 at which time Asst. U.S. Attorney John McAdams asked Lisi to consider the special skill DiPaolo brought to the conspiracy. “If he doesn’t go to jail,” McAdams pleaded, “then what do you have to do to go to jail as an insurance adjustor?” McAdams noted that federal or state authorities are rarely presented with an opportunity to prosecute insurance scammers adding, “DiPaolo should face a stiffer sentence” than the others because of his expertise. In contrast, Anthony Traini, DiPaolo’s attorney argued that his client’s assistance amounted to common sense and required no special skills.
The judge accepted the prosecutor’s basic rationale but refused to impose the requested 12-month prison term he requested. “For him,” Judge Lisi intoned, “it was a crime of choice, and it was a crime of greed.” She told DiPaolo that he alone was responsible for losing his freedom at a time when the 62 year old should be “enjoying life to the fullest.” With those words Lisi sentenced the former insurance adjustor to three years of probation with six months to serve in the same facility that confined Sergiacomi. In addition, he was ordered to pay $40,000 in restitution and $10,000 in fines.
Ciresi Files an Appeal
Weinberg is regarded as one of the nation’s most prominent criminal trial and appeals attorneys. A 1971 graduate from Harvard Law School, he has been a chief trial and appellate counsel in hundreds of cases during his 36 years as a defense attorney. According to his Web site, Weinberg
“has defended his clients on charges ranging from money laundering, tax evasion, securities fraud, mail, wire and bank fraud to racketeering, drug smuggling, Internet sex offenses, computer theft, and murder. Weinberg’s experience includes, when necessary, his organizing and directing case-specific teams of nationally selected attorneys, skilled forensic and traditional investigators, and specialized experts.”
For 20 consecutive years he was selected by his peers for inclusion in Best Lawyers in America, a prestigious guide widely used by other lawyers to select counsel.
He successfully argued a landmark Fourth Amendment case, United States v Chadwick, in the United States Supreme Court and was the principal lawyer in a ground-breaking challenge to the Department of Justice’s 20 year history of seizing the content of e-mails through secret subpoenas to Internet Service Providers in circumvention of the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment. In addition he represented over 100 attorneys in matters including disqualification challenges, motions to quash grand jury subpoenas, contempt proceedings, and federal criminal prosecution for money laundering and obstruction of justice.
Working with Kimberly Horman on a case beginning in Rhode Island, he won appellate reversals in the federal honest services case involving Roger Williams Medical Center CEO Robert Urciuoli who was accused of bribing North Providence State Senator John A. Celona, in a plot first exposed as part of the FBI’s Operation Dollar Bill investigation. It is fair to say that Ciresi chose wisely in his selection of Weinberg to handle his appeal.
The essence of the 54-page appeal was an attempt to prove that Judge Lisi erred when she allowed the consensually recorded phone messages between me and Zambarano to be played at trial knowing that Zambarano was not available to testify in person.
Ciresi’s appeal specifically noted that there were two distinct bribery attempts; the first involving the Stop & Shop project and the other regarding the Lyman Mill development. Ciresi maintained that he was clearly not a party to the Lyman Mill bribe since he had made it quite evident to Zambarano that he was “out” and that Zambarano and his cohorts would need to extort money from Imondi on their own. In addition,
“the challenged statements were narratives of past events by Zambarano relating to the 2008-09 supermarket bribe scheme, made during conversations with Caranci, the government informant, often in response to his direct interrogation of Zambarano about Ciresi, many of which were made more than a year after the termination of the earlier bribe venture, and none of which had any tendency to advance any current objectives of a conspiracy of which Ciresi was a member.”
The defense further claimed that “Ciresi and Zambarano were not coconspirators at the time the April 4, 2010 conversation took place or at the time of any subsequent conversations, and the statements made by Zambarano (or Burchfield or Douglas) in those conversations were for that reason inadmissible under Rule 801(d)(2)(E).” It is evident, the defense attorneys claim, that “There was, simply, no interdependence between the two ventures.”
Ciresi also contended that the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution is itself enough to exclude the tapes from evidence. Writing in the appeal filing, Ciresi’s attorney noted,“Finally, all the Zambarano-Caranci conversations should have been excluded as violative of Ciresi’s rights under the Confrontation Clause. Ciresi recognizes that this Court’s precedent is to the contrary, but introduction of conversations such as those at issue here, where the government intentionally utilizes an informant to elicit and tape record extrajudicial statements regarding the defendant, fully intending that, if the informant’s efforts bear sufficient fruit, the statements will be introduced against the defendant at trial, introduces an intolerable level of fundamental unfairness, denial of opportunity to test the statements through cross-examination of the declarant, and manifest unreliability into the trials of criminal cases.”
Finally Ciresi requested that Judge Lisi extend the date on which Ciresi must report to prison, an appeal initially opposed by the government, which argued that a week was sufficient time for a decision to be made on the question of bail. But just one day later, the government relented and agreed to a one-week extension saying, “As an accommodation to the defendant to finalize his preparations for self-reporting, including travel arrangements and wrapping up his law practice, the government has no objection to an extension.” The extra week also provided the First Circuit Court of Appeals additional time to decide whether or not Ciresi should make bail pending their decision on his request for new trial.
Despite his request to remain free on bail pending his appeal, Ciresi reported to a satellite work camp of the Fort Dix Federal Prison in New Jersey on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 6, 2011 there to be known as inmate #08208-070. The camp is part of the minimum-security prison for men located on the Fort Dix campus. The early arrival guaranteed that Ciresi would remain in prison for at least five months as oral arguments for his appeal would not be heard until February 8, 2012.
Years earlier in 2007 Providence Mayor Vincent (Buddy) Cianci checked into the 2,500 inmate facility at Fort Dix, a place he euphemistically referred to as a “gated community.” There he worked in the prison library and lived in a two-man cell, unlike many prisoners who share accommodations with up to 15 other inmates. According to prison friend and mob associate Charles “Wolf” Kennedy, the brother of former Rhode Island State Representative Gloria Kennedy Fleck, Cianci “had a hard time with prison life when he first arrived” despite his favorable accommodations - Kennedy referred to Cianci’s cell as “an oasis” - and envied the plethora of mail that Cianci received each week. Kennedy noted that Cianci received so much mail “that a prison guard once quipped that Cianci should ‘have his own ZIP code.’”
It is doubtful that Ciresi would be the beneficiary of those same “cushy” accommodations.
Ironically Edward Imondi, the other convicted middleman in the North Providence corruption scheme, who reported to prison in May 2011 donning prison #08209-070, completed his 366-day sentence and was released from prison on May 10, 2012, almost 4 months to the day before Ciresi started his term of incarceration.
On the day of the appeals hearing each side was allowed only 15 minutes to make their case. Weinberg presented to Chief Judge Sandra L. Lynch and her two associates, Kermit V. Lipez and retired United States Supreme Court Associate Justice David Souter who regularly sits on the First Circuit by designation, arguing that the recordings were improperly admitted into evidence by Judge Lisi, and that those tapes were “pivotal” in the government’s case against his client. U.S. Attorney Donald C. Lockhart countered that the U.S. Supreme Court already ruled that statements of the type made by then-Councilman John A. Zambarano are admissible. Lockhart argued that Judge Lisi’s admission of the statements was in keeping with the high court’s finding on the “non-testimonial” nature of statements “made unwillingly” to a government agent.
Judges Lynch and Lipez peppered both sides with questions as Associate Justice Souter sat silent. Although Justice Lynch at times seemed supportive of Lockhart’s position, the U.S. Attorney’s argument seemed to garner little merit with Judge Lipez who at one point said, “There does seem to be a good amount of academic literature suggesting review” of the case.
As the time allotted to discuss Ciresi’s fate expired the three judges moved on unceremoniously to the next of the four cases on the day’s docket. Many months would pass before a decision would be forthcoming from the court, but that decision was finally rendered on October 5, 2012. Circuit Court Judge Lipez summarized Ciresi’s challenge writing, “Ciresi essentially raised three arguments in his hearsay challenge to Zambarano’s statements. First, he contends that the supermarket bribe and the mill bribe were in fact separate conspiracies involving separate actors and that he never participated in the mill bribe. Second, he argues that even if the two bribes were part of the same scheme, he affirmatively withdrew from the conspiracy before the mill bribe occurred. Third, he asserts that Zambarano’s statements were not made in furtherance of the conspiracy.”
Lipez proceeded to address each argument in turn. He noted that the test to determine if a set of criminal activities constitute a single conspiracy is generally determined by three factors: “(1) the existence of a common goal, (2) overlap among the activities’ participants, and (3) interdependence among the participants.” He concluded that the facts of the case satisfy these requirements. “These factors all point toward the existence of a single conspiracy,” Lipez wrote. The court ruled that the bribes shared the common goal of extorting clients of Ciresi who had submitted zoning applications to the Town Council; each involving a “core conspirator, or hub character in John Zambarano who shuttled information back and forth among the participants and facilitated the activities of the various conspirators;” and each participant “understood the bribes’ success to hinge on the others’ cooperation. Hence, all of Zambarano’s statements about Ciresi fell within the course of a conspiracy of which he was a member.”
In addition, the court ruled that Ciresi was indeed a part of the conspiracy because his remarks indicating his “withdrawal from the Lyman Mill bribe were ambiguous … and do not clearly evince change of heart or abandonment.” Nor did Zambarano’s utterances constitute “idle chatter or narratives of past events.” In fact, “they set the table for the mill bribe and furthered the conspiracy.”
Regarding, perhaps, the most critical contention of Ciresi’s appeal, the court ruled that Zambarano’s absence from trial did not violate the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution writing that “the Supreme Court precedents and our prior opinions foreclose Ciresi’s arguments. Thus we find no constitutional error in the admission of Zambarano’s statements.”
Ciresi would remain behind bars, but he wouldn’t end his quest for release. His attorneys swiftly appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court, but on March 5, 2013, the high court declined to review his corruption conviction condemning Ciresi to the full prison term of 63 months to which Judge Lisi sentenced him.
Zambarano Changes His Mind…Again
John Zambarano was having a difficult time coping with prison life. Life without the liberty that is so often taken for granted cannot be easy, but some, like Buddy Cianci, adjust by mentally accepting the rigors of a new life in which you are told when to get up, when to sleep, when to eat and when to shower. Although at one time in his life Zambarano had known the hard work of full-time carpet installation as the owner of Zam’s Carpeting, more recent times had provided him the luxury of less strenuous work.
As the supervisor of an Adult Correctional Facility (ACI) prison work release crew he watched as others performed the laborious work of cleaning state-owned buildings. The enjoyment of life with his family, the prestige that comes from sporting the title of councilman, and warm summer days spent poolside in his backyard sipping on a glass of wine, a cold beer, or some other form of refreshment, were gone now. So are the days spent watching prison crews hustling through state offices cleaning to the bark of his orders. Now, he was the one on the receiving end of those orders. Donning prison garb and fending off the unwarranted and certainly unwelcomed abuse of fellow inmates, Zambarano reached his cracking point. On December 14, 2011, just six months and one week after entering Petersburg Correctional Complex, Zambarano filed a motion asking the court to vacate or set-aside his sentence.
The 19-page document was prepared by Zambarano using prison library resources and submitted by his wife Kathy who holds Zambarano’s power of attorney. At the outset of the pleading Zambarano wrote, “…The Supreme Court holds allegations of pro-se complaint to less stringent standards than pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Therefore, “The Court should grant relief despite the failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories and poor syntax. In his motion Zambarano argues that attorney Thomas G. Briody provided him with ineffective counsel because Briody “rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance for failing to adequately investigate and present important mitigating evidence, specifically an evaluation report of John A. Zambarano’s mental health from Butler Hospital, before negotiating a plea agreement in a criminal matter…” Said report apparently would have convinced the judge of the seriousness of Zambarano’s “mental illness, which rendered him incapable of knowingly and voluntarily entering a guilty plea and further rendered him non-competent to negotiate a plea or stand trial.” He further accused Briody of rendering “ineffective assistance for failing to secure a safety-valve proffer for John A. Zambarano’s truthful information provided to federal authorities” and for his “failure to move for a downward departure based on his clients mental health issues in his sentencing memorandum.”
Zambarano wrote that Briody was aware of Zambarano’s “mental health issues and that he [Zambarano] had been hospitalized prior to his guilty plea and sentencing” in the criminal matter. Zambarano confided that Dr. Paul B. Lieberman diagnosed him with “major depressive disorder” stating further that Zambarano was suicidal. He was admitted to Butler Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Providence, from February 17 to February 23, 2010 and again on March 1, 2011. While there he was under the care of Doctors Martin J. Furman, Susan M. Kelly, Paul B. Lieberman and Anthony M. Marino – Psychologist & L.I.C.S.W. It was at that time, Zambarano wrote in his pleading, that attorney Briody advised Zambarano to “come and sign this plea.” Refusing a request to bring the paperwork to the hospital, attorney Briody allegedly told Zambarano “he was not coming to that place and if he (Zambarano) didn’t get to him, the Judge was going to set the case for trial.”
The essence of Zambarano’s claim is that his mental condition rendered him incapable of understanding the nature of the charge and the consequences of his plea, and that his attorney essentially committed malpractice by failing to realize that and for failing to negotiate a safety-valve proffer in exchange for Zambarano telling the U.S. Attorney that Churchill and Banks principal Richard Baccari actually paid a $50,000 bribe, and not the $25,000 that was mentioned in the charges against him, the other councilmen and Bob Ciresi.
Federal prosecutors immediately filed an answer to Zambarano’s pleading suggesting that Zambarano clearly demonstrated his competence to fully understand his March 1, 2011 plea and knew exactly what he was doing. They cited the stenographic record of court proceedings pointing out the interaction between Zambarano and Judge Lisi “showing how she carefully questioned him to make sure he knew what was taking place and was issuing his plea voluntarily.”
The U.S. Attorney also noted that “prior to Zambarano’s sentencing in May, he carefully completed a three-page statement of his monthly cash flow and an eight-page statement of his net worth.” The federal prosecutors argued that under federal law, no reduction in sentence such as the one sought by Zambarano, was available, “noting that Zambarano’s mental anguish had to be a factor in his crimes to make him eligible for a reduction.” And, referring to Zambarano’s assertion that Briody failed to seek a reduction in sentence based on Zambarano’s cooperation with authorities, the U.S. Attorney laughed it off as a “’bad joke’ because the particular reduction Zambarano refers to does not apply to the offenses in his case.” Prosecutors noted that the disgraced councilman’s attorney simply instructed his client to tell the truth, something that Zambarano apparently regards as a “rare thing.”
Judge Lisi carefully considered Zambarano’s motion and the prosecution’s response before issuing her Memorandum and Order on May 30, 2013 denying the motion in its entirety saying that she was well aware of his hospitalization prior to his plea hearing. Lisi carefully outlined the several times Zambarano was asked under oath about his ability to understand the proceedings and make an informed decision. He stated each time that he did understand saying at one point, “that he was not having any difficulty understanding the Court and that he had a clear head. Zambarano confirmed that he pleaded guilty of his own free will because he was guilty” Lisi took exception to the fact that Zambarano made no specific claims regarding how his mental health may have precluded him from making an informed decision. To the contrary, she pointed out that a letter from Susan M. Kelly, MD, the doctor treating Zambarano for depression and suicidal tendencies, made it clear that none of the medications she prescribed to Zambarano would impact his ability to make decisions about legal or other matters.
Despite the setback, Zambarano was not deterred. He promptly appealed Judge Lisi’s decision to the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On October 15, 2013, the three judge “panel found that U.S. District Court Judge Mary M. Lisi’s decision rejecting John A. Zambarano’s bid to undo his guilty plea was ‘neither debatable nor wrong.’”
Almost 29 months following his initial incarceration, and following entries in virtually every court for which he was eligible, it was now clear to Zambarano that he would be required to serve his full sentence and would need to complete his adjustment to prison life.
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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