Wired: 2011 Part 5, a Book by Paul Caranci
Monday, July 24, 2017
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A Developer is Indicted in the North Providence Corruption Probe
One of the questions on the minds of many Rhode Islanders during the three years of legal wrangling of those involved in the North Providence corruption probe focused on the failure of the government to indict those responsible for paying the bribes to the councilmen who accepted and/or demanded them. After all, those curious observers reasoned, if no businessmen would agree to pay a bribe, then no elected official would be able to collect on one. While the merits of the logic is debatable, the question is certainly reasonable. Those that wondered received an answer some 37 months after the arrest of the three councilmen with the indictment of Churchill & Banks Companies, LLC and its President and CEO Richard P. Baccari.
Baccari and I had a history that dates to 1987. At the time Baccari, owner of a development company operating under the name Downing Corporation, sought permission to construct an additional 10-unit building on the Angell Road side of the Louisquisset Condominiums complex that the company had built years earlier. Neighbors contended that the construction was planned on land designated as a buffer zone between the 400 unit complex and the neighbors. The Town Council appealed the issuance of Downing’s building permit and the Zoning Board’s decision to support construction of the addition. Downing claimed that his original permit issued in 1981 allowed him to construct a total of 619 units and he was therefore within his rights to build the 10-unit addition.
In 1988 the Zoning Board sided with Baccari on a split vote of 3-2 with Chairman Michael DiChiara, Azarig Kooloian and Joseph Piccardi voting in favor and G. Richard Fossa and lone Republican Henry Giammaro voting in opposition. The Town Council appealed the decision to Superior Court and in November 1988 Judge Ronald Gagnon ruled that the Zoning Board erred in itsconsideration of the original permit and ordered the board to rehear the case and base its decision solely on whether the addition complies with town zoning laws. At the time of the original hearing, Joseph Piccardi, a project supporter, held a position on the Zoning Board. In January 1989, with Piccardi’s term expiring, the Council appointed me as his replacement and I had serious concerns about the potential of the construction encroaching on the designated buffer area. When the Zoning Board received the judge’s order to rehear the case, the Chairman, in an effort to ensure another favorable decision, asked Piccardi to return to the Board for the new vote. This, I felt, would constitute a severe breach of the law and the Town Council agreed. So once again the Superior Court was asked to intervene and the judge ruled that I, as the current member of the Zoning Board, and not Piccardi who had been replaced, needed to sit on the Board when it reconsiders the case. The Zoning Board then appealed that decision to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The decision remained unchanged. Why all the fuss about who should vote during the Board’s reconsideration of its earlier vote? Clearly mine was considered to be the swing vote and I had indicated that I had reservations about the project. This did not please Mayor Sal Mancini who openly expressed his support for the development and the Zoning Board Chairman obviously did not want to risk the success of the second approval of the project based on my participation.
What the Chairman did next went well beyond the pale of honest, transparent government. While I was on an announced family vacation in Florida, Zoning Board Secretary Karen Musimeci called my office and asked my secretary, Carol Mainelli, when I was scheduled to return. Mainelli confirmed that I was scheduled to return home on September 5th. When Musimeci relayed that information to Chairman DiChiara he scheduled the meeting for August 31st. Knowing that I would still be in Florida, DiChiara didn’t even bother to send me the required meeting notice.
As fate would have it, I returned home on August 30th, almost a week earlier than planned. Needless to say my return caught those who thought they would be voting without me off guard. Helene Cooper of the Providence Evening Bulletin described it this way. “Paul Caranci’s appearance usually doesn’t turn heads. But several people did a double take when he walked into Town Hall to take his place at a Zoning Board meeting August 31. ‘What are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be on vacation.’ Zoning Board Chairman Michael DiChiara said to Caranci. Caranci smiled. ‘I came back,’ he said.”
Despite DiChiara’s claims to the contrary, I and many others believed that the chairman deliberately failed to notify me of the meeting in a purposeful attempt to keep me out. Following the meeting Councilman Ralph Mollis disputed DiChiara’s claim that the failure to send me adequate notice was an “oversight” as DiChiara had stated. “It’s obvious that DiChiara called the meeting abruptly. It’s obvious that he purposely did not notify Caranci. They were visibly upset when he walked in.”
Now that my presence foiled their plan to take the new vote without me, DiChiara needed to devise a new plan in a hurry. He suggested I relinquish my vote to alternate Board member Vincent Vicario because he was familiar with the case having been present during the original hearing while I was not. Instead, I urged the Board to postpone the vote for a month to allow me to familiarize myself with the case. The Board eventually voted to grant a 1-week extension.
A week later, with several Council members and attorneys present, the Board convened once again. However, rather than casting a vote on the issue, Fossa announced that the neighbors were meeting with Baccari to work out a compromise that might end the dispute. Forty minutes later, Baccari walked into the chamber with the neighbors who had initiated the case against him and announced they had reached an agreement which Baccari’s attorney read into the record: If the Zoning Board ruled in favor of Downing and if the Council dropped the appeal, Downing would agree to put up shrubs between the development and the neighbors, move the entrance to the building’s parking lot and refrain from building more units at Louisquissett.
I and several Council members were shocked and protested that the agreement does not address the alleged violations of the zoning ordinance. A vote was taken and DiChiara, Giammarco and Kooloian supported the agreement. I voted against the compromise without reservation while Fossa abstained, or at least tried to. At the urging of Downing’s attorney, Fossa changed his “abstention” to “no” so as to avoid legal problems that might arise at a later date.
The Council that had spent ten years and in excess of $12,000 to fight Baccari was very disappointed that the neighbors relented, but Anthony D’Ordine, the most vocal of the neighbors who objected said he had grown weary of the fight. “What’s more, he said, ‘the thought of doing battle with a man of Baccari’s power was intimidating. He can be a very threatening person,” D’Ordine said. ‘He’s a powerful man in a powerful position. He contributed to the governor’s campaign, the mayor’s campaign. You can’t go up higher than that in the state. Who knows who else he controls?’”
Baccari’s new company, Churchill & Banks Companies, LLC, according to government prosecutors, is a Rhode Island real estate development company which “operated in interstate commerce in the acquisition, development, construction and management of office, industrial, retail, and residential properties in Rhode Island and other states.” Represented by attorney Robert Ciresi in the deal to develop a supermarket in North Providence, 71-year old Baccari of Narragansett, and his company, were each indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of bribery and one count of conspiracy.
The 17-page indictment “alleged that Baccari and Churchill & Banks paid the bribe through a middle-man, Robert S. Ciresi, a former attorney who was convicted and is imprisoned for his role in the bribery scheme.” The indictment further states that “the bribe money was delivered by Ciresi, on Richard Baccari’s and Churchill Bank’s behalf, to [Councilman John] Zambarano shortly after the [town] Council’s vote” on February 10, 2009.
Baccari immediately procured the services of 63-year old, famed Boston defense lawyer Anthony Cardinale. Cardinale was the lead defense attorney in the nine-month-long racketeering trial of the legendary New England organized crime underboss, Gennaro Angiulo in 1983. Since that time most of Cardinale’s headline cases have been mob related, and “although Cardinale relishes the high drama and intrigue, he’s never grown accustomed to – and remains slightly defensive about – the public’s negative view of attorneys like him: the Mob lawyer.” Cardinale is the “lawyer of choice for many Mafiosi here [in Boston] and in New York City,” Boston Globe reporter Dick Lehr wrote. Best known for his footwork in court, Cardinale “accomplished what no one else has – won court orders requiring the unyielding FBI to admit to a scandalous coupling with James J. ‘Whitey’ Bulger, admissions that have exploded the myth of the fugitive Bulger as wily gang leader and stand-up guy. Instead, all the while he’s been the FBI’s Big Snitch.” Sporting a reputation for being very good on his feet, Cardinale also counts Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme as one of his clients. In 1992 he participated in John Gotti’s godfather trial where he defended Gotti sidekick Frank “Frankie Locs” Locascio. Of his role as a mob attorney Cardinale notes, “The U.S. government – there’s nothing more powerful, nothing more intimidating, nothing with more resources and the ability to literally crush you, if they want to. My job is simple: to stop people from playing God, and people out there who think it doesn’t happen are woefully clueless and naïve, because every day in every courtroom prosecutors and judges, to a certain extent, play God.”
Despite his powerful connections and extraordinary wealth, it seemed that nothing in my life had changed with the news of Baccari’s indictment. That is until Friday, October 25, 2013. Just two days after the indictment was delivered, my mother-in-law greeted me at the door when I arrived home from work. It seems that while she sat in my home office at about 8:30 a.m. that morning, a white mid-size car with two very large men in the front seat made a turn off Rt. 44 and pulled into the driveway across the street from my home. As she watched through the window, the car slowly backed out and parked directly across the street. The driver reached for a camera, pressed it against the driver’s side window, and began taking photographs of my house. In just an instant he was gone but my mother-in-law was pretty shaken by the incident.
Margie and I wondered if the incident was in any way connected to the indictment and I reported it to my FBI handler. Agent Pitcavage, in turn, called the North Providence Police and requested more frequent checks on my home. Little did we know that this would be but the first of a series of events that would cause a great deal of consternation over the next few months.
In the mid-afternoon of November 5, 2013, Richard Baccari entered a plea of "not guilty" to charges of conspiracy and bribery and Cardinale requested that Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan release Baccari on personal recognizance, a request that was denied by the judge. “He’s not going anywhere,” Cardinale protested, “He has been married for 50 years and has lived in the same house for 38 years.” The judge told the man who drives a Roll Royce and lives in an oceanfront house in Narragansett to stay close to the people who will keep tabs on him during his release. She further ordered Baccari to surrender his passport before releasing him on an unsecured bond of $50,000.
On November 15, 2013 I again received a call from Pitcavage advising me that Cardinale was issuing a rash of subpoenas. I was one of the listed recipients and should expect a visit from a constable making service of the subpoena. He also told me that I was under no legal obligation to answer any questions that they might ask and simply had to accept service and walk away. That day, as I arrived back to my office building after lunch, two men, each easily over 6’, approached me in the parking lot as I stepped from my car. They confirmed my name and identified themselves as Michael Iarossi and Peter Costello, former R.I. state troopers who were now licensed private investigators working for Anthony Cardinale. They handed me the subpoena and began to ask several questions about my service on the Council, my role in the corruption probe and the book I was writing about the experience. To each question I simply answered that I was not comfortable speaking to them about it. They asked if I were represented by an attorney. No, I answered as I walked past them and into my office building. They didn’t follow me but left me with the distinct impression that I should hire an attorney.
I dutifully contacted Agent Pitcavage and told him of the experience. I asked if he thought it advisable to hire an attorney. He said there was no reason to have an attorney from a legal perspective as I was not in any trouble. However, he advised that the U.S. Attorney doesn’t work for me as I am merely their witness and they are therefore not able to provide me with legal advice. So if I think it would be best to have legal counsel throughout the proceedings, then it would be in my best interest to obtain it.
Margie and I reviewed the subpoena later that night. I was being asked to produce mountains of information by December 3rd, little more than 2 weeks, including the unpublished manuscript of this book which at the time was incomplete and in a very preliminary state. It contained some information that never made its way into the book and what was written was very rudimentary at best. It was more a cross between notes and an attempt to place the notes in some type of ordered sequence, than it was a manuscript.
The subpoena specifically demanded“Any and all notes, memoranda, manuscripts, books, mechanical or electronic recordings, or information or data stored on any computer memory device(s), including any and all correspondence, including but not limited to text messages, emails, letters, or other types of correspondence, sent or received by Paul Caranci, that relates in any way to individuals, entities and/or events involved in the transactions relating to applications for zoning changes and/or amendments to Article 2, Section 202 of the Zoning Ordinance of the Town of North Providence, related to the development of a proposed supermarket in North Providence…”
This information was also demanded as it pertains to the Lyman Mill rezoning. Finally, the document demanded
“Any and all notes, memoranda, manuscripts, books, mechanical or electronic recordings, or information or data stored on any computer memory device(s), including any and all correspondence, including but not limited to text messages, emails, letters, or other types of correspondence, sent or received by Paul Caranci, that relates in any way to any corrupt, illegal or unethical acts by members of the Town Counsel [sic] of the Town of North Providence, including but not limited to John A. Zambarano, Joseph S. Burchfield and/or Raymond L. Douglas, or any individuals acting in concert therewith, including but not limited to, Robert S. Ciresi, Kevin James O’Sullivan, Vincent Coccoli, Sr., Edward Imondi.”
For my compliance efforts, I was also given a check for $60.00!
The raft of subpoenas issued by Cardinale that day totaled eighteen. Among the recipients were Frank Manfredi, Joseph Giammarco, Manny Giusti, Vincent Coccoli Sr., Kevin O’Sullivan, Edward Imondi, and the Town Council of the Town of North Providence. None of them, I guessed, had the volumes of related information that I had in my possession. After discussing it with Margie, and thinking of the boxes of information that I had to review and then the difficulty in trying to determine whether or not it met the criteria established by the subpoena, we decided to contact an attorney. I needed help not only deciding which documents fell under the requirements of the subpoena, but also trying to maintain the privacy of my manuscript which as I noted, was more of a diary of events at that point.
As was the case with the FBI contact, Margie was able to suggest someone I could call. This time it was her good friend, Brandon Bell. Brandon was not only Margie’s close friend and former student, but he had a plethora of experience as a defense attorney in the U.S. District Court. After a brief discussion, Brandon agreed to represent me in the proceedings Bell is a partner in the Davol Square law firm of Fontaine DeCarvalho & Bell LLP. He is a 1994 graduate of Indiana State University and received his Juris Doctorate from Roger Williams University School of Law in 1997. Brandon has been admitted into the practice of law in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut and in each jurisdiction in which he practiced has developed a reputation as brilliant, compassionate and energetic. He seems to have a passion for the underdog and argues vociferously on behalf of his clients. His integrity is above reproach.
Federal prosecutors appeared before U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr. on December 4, 2013 asking him to quash all “18 subpoenas arguing that defendant Richard Baccari Sr. has not shown sufficient cause for seeking the information,” and on other grounds.. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Terrance P. Donnelly and John McAdams argued that “the request for any information concerning the corruption on Caranci’s computer is a ‘fishing expedition’ aimed at a cooperating government witness, in an attempted end run of procedural rules.” Judge McConnell listened intently to the attorneys speaking for both the government and the defendant and then took the matter under advisement, but not before telling the attorneys to advise their clients that there would be no need to respond to the subpoena until he rendered a decision. Fortunately, I ignored the judge’s suggestion and began the search through my records immediately, a decision that would prove sagacious.
The respective parties were in McConnell’s courtroom once again on December 16, 2013. At that hearing the judge rebuffed federal prosecutors and promptly ruled in Baccari’s favor granting the developer access to information ranging from recordings of Bob Ciresi’s prison telephone conversations with his attorney and daughter Mary June Ciresi to my manuscript. After reviewing some of the information requested by Baccari, McConnell said some of it is “highly relevant” and “clearly admissible.” Attorney Bell argued that production of my “unfinished manuscript, a literary work of authorship,” would run afoul of my rights under the Copyright Act and would have “somewhat of a chilling effect.” He offered to work out an arrangement with defense counsel that would allow some of the information to remain secret, but the judge would hear none of it. “I’m not really big on protective orders,” the judge said. “These are public allegations made of public corruption.”
Cardinale wasted no time flexing his muscle. The very next day he wrote to Brandon Bell insisting that I had plenty of time to anticipate the judge’s ruling and demanded the files be turned over no later than close of business on December 24, 2013, a mere eight days following the ruling. Had I not begun the task of pouring through the material a few days after the subpoena was delivered, despite the judge telling us to wait until he ruled on the motion to quash, there is no way that I could have possibly complied with the deadline. Because I did not wait, I was able to provide the information earlier than required.
After hours of scouring boxes of potentially relevant material, Brandon culled the material he felt needed to be provided to the defense in accordance with the requirements of the subpoena. That information was scanned and available to the court in electronic format by December 18, 2013. The manuscript was provided in hard copy only.
On that same date, the Providence Journal reporter requested copies of the materials that were produced to the Court in response to the Rule 17 subpoenas issued by Mr. Baccari. Judge McConnell wrote to the defense and prosecution attorneys as well as Brandon Bell requesting their recommendations. “Before I make a decision,” McConnell wrote, “I would appreciate the benefit of your input. Kindly let me know if you have any position with regard to this request. You may simply send me a letter via this email (by simply replying to ALL). Kindly submit any letters by 5 p.m. on Thursday, January 2, 2014.” The government submitted a 66-page reply suggesting that “the Court direct the Providence Journal to file a motion citing the reasons and legal authority for its request,” allowing the parties to fully brief the issue before the Court makes a decision and complete the record in the event of an appeal.
Cardinale represented a client who had plenty of money and he used it in grand fashion filing motion after motion in defense of his client. The government also has unlimited resources matching Cardinale’s effort motion by motion. I, on the other hand, had very limited resources and, while represented ably by my attorney, could only watch the proceedings from the distance of a witness for the prosecution.
On January 13, 2014, the Defense filed a motion requesting that the Court order the government to produce certain discovery and Brady materials and that it disclose its intention to offer any evidence it will seek to offer in court. On the same day a 24-page memorandum of law was filed in support of the Defense motion. The following day Cardinale filed a motion to dismiss the indictment against Baccari on the grounds of prosecutorial vindictiveness. The motion alleged that the government brought the indictment as punishment to his client and his client’s company as evidenced by the fact that similar indictments were not sought against any of the other companies alleged to have paid money to the corrupt councilmen. They cited the 2009 case of United States v Jones in which the government threatened Ms. Jones with an increased prison term if she did not do as they asked.
“The only difference between the facts of Jones and this case,” Cardinale wrote, “is that the prosecutors in this case never publically announced the ultimatum. Rather they waited almost five years. Waited until all of the other defendants had exhausted their appeals and new trial motions and then extracted their revenge. They dragged 80 year old Robert Ciresi back to Rhode Island, put him before the grand jury, and forced him to testify under threat of contempt. Finally they had carried out their long awaited revenge, the Indictment of Richard Baccari and his Company.”
This motion was followed immediately by the filing of a second motion requesting dismissal of Count One of the Indictment because it failed to state a crime. The filing included a motion to dismiss the Indictment in its entirety on the grounds that the required element that a defendant must act “corruptly,” is not satisfied if a payment is extorted from that defendant under threat of economic duress. Both motions were accompanied by very lengthy Memoranda of Law in support of them. Cardinale cited a local case in Johnston, R.I. as precedent. In that 1990s case, Ralph aRusso, the late mayor of Johnston, and three others were accused of extorting bribes from Peter Zanni Jr., and Roma Construction of Hollywood, Florida. Zanni made the payments, but then reported the scheme to the FBI. Three town officials, but not aRusso, were found guilty and sent to prison. Zanni then
“filed a civil racketeering suit against those that extorted him. The U.S. District Court dismissed the case on grounds that Zanni had participated in the scheme by paying bribes before alerting authorities. But on appeal in 1996, the First Circuit Court ruled that to actually participate in the scheme, Zanni had to ‘act corruptly’ under Rhode Island statute, and simply paying the money that officials had demanded was not enough to satisfy that element.”
Several days later On January 29, 2014, I was informed that Baccari’s latest motion to the court was beyond what anyone could have imagined: Baccari was alleging that the government deliberately permitted evidence to the grand jury that it knew to be materially false - Ciresi’s grand jury testimony In fact, Cardinale asked the court to“conduct an in camera inspection of the grand jury minutes and thereafter, to dismiss the indictment pursuant to the due process clause of the fifth amendment and/or the inherent supervisory powers of the court on the grounds that the government permitted evidence to be presented to the Grand Jury that it knew to be materially false and which materially prejudiced the defendants and substantially influenced the Grand Jury’s decision to indict and further, to strike paragraphs 28 and 29 of the indictment.”
The materially false statement referred to was a statement by John Zambarano alleging that both he and Ciresi had talked about obtaining a bribe from Baccari before the two went to the developer’s Providence office together in 2008. According to the motion, “Federal prosecutors knowingly presented Zambarano’s false account to the grand jury because they want to make the argument that both Ciresi and Baccari knew Zambarano would ask for a bribe prior to the meeting.” Such knowledge reflects intent on Baccari’s part, and Baccari had no expectation for any discussion about a payoff, Cardinale contends. Rather, he wrote, the councilman shook him down and extorted him for a bribe. Prosecutors knew, the defense wrote, that such testimony directly contradicts Bob Ciresi’s testimony to the grand jury where he testified that he believed Zambarano was going to ask for a political donation, not a bribe.
The government responded that the defendant’s suggestions were fanciful and their motion was without objective evidence. “Prudence, not vengeance, was the driving force in this prosecution. Accordingly, the motion should be denied.” The motion quoted from a transcript of Bob Ciresi’s grand jury testimony in which Ciresi repeatedly refused to testify against Baccari, his former client, until compelled to do so by Judge Mary Lisi who extended Ciresi immunity from prosecution for anything he said provided it was the truth. Ciresi then testified that he “was Baccari’s lawyer in the summer of 2008 when the developer sought zoning changes” to build the Stop & Shop on Mineral Spring Avenue in North Providence. At that time Ciresi arranged for small groups of councilmen to meet with Baccari and view the engineers plans so they could see what the project would look like if approved. He said that following one meeting, Zambarano asked him if he thought Baccari would make a “political donation” to him. McAdams asked, “it was not your understanding that the payment you gave on February 10, 2009 was actually a political donation, correct?” “No, I thought it wasn’t a political donation.” Ciresi responded. “It was a bribe?” McAdams asked. “Yes,” Ciresi answered. “Before that meeting, I didn’t think anything was wrong. He was going to ask for a political donation.” But Baccari later told Ciresi that Zambarano wanted a payoff for the project Ciresi testified. At first he was looking for $25,000, but then he upped that to $50,000 without an explanation. Ciresi passed that information on to Baccari. The government motion noted that “at bottom, Baccari has identified a potential inconsistency between two pieces of evidence, both of which were submitted to the grand jury for its consideration, and which the defendants will have ample opportunity to explore at trial.”
Cardinale responded on April 1, 2014 with corresponding motions in response to the government’s answers to his original motions to dismiss. The defense attorney pointed out that developer Kevin O’Sullivan admitted in open court in 2011 that he paid the North Providence councilmen $21,000 to cast a favorable vote on a zone change to allow for the conversion of the Lyman Mill building to Condominiums. Yet almost three years later, O’Sullivan has not been charged proving that Baccari is being maliciously singled out for prosecution. Prosecutors, however, have argued all along that they have the legal discretion to prosecute one developer and not the other. Even John W. Mitchell, one of Baccari’s New York-based lawyers acknowledged that it is “’hard to say’ whether McConnell will dismiss the case.”
On that same day the government filed a total of five motions, all in response to various motions filed to date by the defense. In so doing, the government announced that it was ready to go to trial.
Cardinale submitted another filing on May 14, 2014 requesting an “in camera inspection of the Pre-Sentence Report” by the judge to determine if the report contains material the judge may deem relevant in allowing Baccari’s request for the disclosure of any and all exculpatory and/or impeachment material against John Zambarano reminding the judge that Zambarano waived any privilege to keep his medical information private when he voluntarily disclosed the information to the court in his 2011 motion. This information is important to the defense, Cardinale contends, because it “should shed further light on Mr. Zambarano’s mental health and his claims that he was incompetent at the time he entered his plea and at his sentencing.”
Judge McConnell, on May 19, 2014, ordered unsealing of the records requested absent a valid objection from Mr. Zambarano.
Thomas G. Briody, the attorney for John Zambarano, did in fact object to the release of his client’s medical records and other “potentially exculpatory materials in Mr. Zambarano’s Pre-Sentence Report (PSR).” In his plea, Briody noted that “Upon arrival at a federal detention facility in Virginia, Mr. Zambarano fell victim to misguided advice by fellow prisoners. Without the benefit of legal counsel, he sought to vacate his plea. He attached documents that he thought would assist the court in considering his request. Judge Lisi, in reviewing his submissions, recognized that such documentation would ordinarily be sealed, ‘given the sensitive nature of the information contained therein.’ The Court, on its own motion, sealed the exhibits,”
Briody noted. Concluding that “…the relevance of this evidence is unclear and, again, speculative,” Briody reasoned that “this court should not disturb Judge Lisi’s decision to seal the 2255 exhibits.”
Taking into account the arguments presented by Attorney Briody, Judge McConnell ultimately denied the defense motion to allow for the release of Zambarano’s medical records.
The Baccari Trial Begins
Finally, after months of legal wrangling, the long-awaited case against 71-year old Richard Baccari and Churchill & Banks, the company he formed, was ready for trial. The proceedings were scheduled to commence in mid-October following the selection of a suitable jury of Baccari’s peers. Ultimately seven women and five men were selected to serve as the 12 member jury with three female alternates also selected to attend the proceedings.
Wednesday, October 14, 2014 signaled the opening day of the trial and Anthony M. Cardinalli wasted no time defining the theme of the tribunal in which he would paint his client as the “victim of a shakedown scheme carried out by three corrupt councilmen whom he referred to as ‘jackals’” Describing Churchill & Banks as “a small business struggling in the worst of economic times,” Cardinalli told jurors that Baccari invested about $325,000 into the project that couldn’t proceed without the 2009 zone change that could be granted only by the Town Council. Showing jurors photographs of John Zambarano, Ray Douglas and Joey Burchfield, Zambarano’s co-conspirators, he noted that the government’s case was based not on conversations with Baccari, but rather relied heavily on the words of Zambarano, a “pathological liar who can’t be trusted to tell the truth” and who now sits in a jail cell for crimes that include lying to the federal government. Cardinalli also questioned my motives as the whistleblower to whom Zambarano was speaking on those tapes. He called me an “accomplished liar” for winning Zambarano’s trust while wearing a wire. Questioning my motivation for working with the FBI, Cardinalli spoke of the book I was writing about my experience. He told the jurors that I need “a perfect ending to that book…The perfect ending is bagging a trophy. That’s Mr. Baccari, that’s Churchill & Banks. That’s the perfect ending to that story.”
Borrowing several words and phrases from language Donnelly used previously in the trial of convicted middle man Robert Ciresi, Cardinalli “described how the ‘cabal’ of councilmen had run North Providence ‘as a kleptocracy’ and had been ‘on the prowl’ for people to ‘shake down’ for money, including developers,” and further noted that even after the February 2009 vote, Baccari still needed additional action from the corrupt councilmen in April 2009, describing that vote as the “club that was held over his [Baccari’s] head.”
The government prosecutor on the other hand had no intention of allowing Cardinalli to paint his client as a victim of corruption rather than as someone who willfully encouraged a corrupt act with the payment of bribe money. He presented a contrasting image of the man accused of bribing the Council to enhance his chances of a successful and profitable business venture. Terrance Donnelly said that Baccari could have walked away just like some of the others who were asked by the trio of councilmen to pay a bribe. However, Donnelly said, Baccari was an arrogant and wealthy real estate magnate who in 2008, the same year he offered the bribe in North Providence, bought a $75,000 blue Bentley. The same man who lived in an expansive $3.4 million home near the sea in Narragansett. “Instead,” Donnelly continued, “Baccari chose to stay in the project and opted to pay a $25,000 bribe to the ‘bottom-feeding councilmen.’ It’s a case about greed, arrogance and the corruption it breeds,” Donnelly informed the jurors.
Donnelly continued that Baccari could have, at any time, withdrawn from the proposed development prior to paying the promised $2.8 million for the purchase of the property pointing out several recorded statements from former councilman John Zambarano each time prompting the objection of Cardinalli.
Describing the taped conversations as “a guided tour” of the bribery scheme, Donnelly recounted one conversation in which Zambarano told me that he [Zambarano] met with Baccari who promised to pay $25,000 if Zambarano could deliver four votes in support of the zone change. Zambarano is further recorded as saying that it was Baccari who dictated the terms of the bribe “forcing the corrupt councilmen to wait for their money until after they had voted to rezone the project site.”
To support his claims of extortion Cardinalli presented into evidence an explanation that Judge Mary Lisi provided to the jury at the outset of proceedings against Robert S. Ciresi who was convicted of both bribery and extortion. That explanation suggested that there were two elements of the crime of extortion; the “wrongful inducement” of cash by threatened fear, and the inducement of cash “by color of official right.” Donnelly however, over the objection of Cardinalli, presented into evidence Judge Lisi’s final instructions to the jurors of that case in which Lisi defined extortion only as inducing cash “under the color of official right” with no reference to any threats or fear.
I was the primary witness called to the stand on that opening day. Terrance Donnelly played several audio recordings that were made during the months that I wore a wire. I was asked to identify voices and verify dates of those recordings. While I was extraordinarily nervous, Donnelly represented a friendly face and I was able to keep my nerves in check.
Any feelings of reassurance that I had were quickly vanquished upon cross examination however and I played right into the hands of the defense. Cardinalli asked me if I knew what extortion was. Rather than telling him that I wasn’t familiar with the legal distinction between extortion and bribery, I answered that extortion might occur when a person demands something of someone else. “Like they did in this case?” asked Cardinalli. “Yes,” I said immediately recognizing the trap that I had just fallen into. Cardinalli sensed that he had me exactly where he wanted me and he wasn’t about to ease up. He asked me about a question that I posed to Zambarano during one of the recorded conversations in January of 2010 while the two of us sat in his van in front of Dunkin Donuts. On that day almost five years ago I asked what might happen if the Council had to take punitive action against a business that had been “forced” to pay for the Council’s favorable vote. I remembered the conversation, but not the exact words that I used. I wasn’t about to acknowledge my use of a word that might help make his case stronger without knowing for sure if I had used it. “I don’t know if I said ‘forced,’” I responded. “You want to hear the tape again?” Cardinalli said with gusto knowing he had just trapped me again, “OK, Rack it up!” Apparently the word “forced” was used and now my words were looking like an intentional and deceptive attempt to mislead the jury about the facts.
Cardinalli immediately turned his attention to Zambarano asking me if I considered him a liar; someone whose word could not be trusted. “He had no reason at that time to lie to me about the events he described on tape” I told my questioner. But Cardinalli pointed out that Zambarano did lie to me on those taped conversations about how much bribe money he was receiving telling me he was getting $25,000 when in fact he was receiving $50,000. “There’s just no such thing as honor among thieves,” Cardinalli said. “No sir,” I replied.
I was now distracted and rather than focusing on what I was being asked, my mind wandered to how the jurors might be reacting to the things I just said. You are telling the truth I tried to reassure myself. Let it go and think before responding again. But there would be no time to collect my thoughts. Without as much as a pause, Cardinalli turned his attention to how I had talked my way into the conspiracy during the recorded conversations with Zambarano. Didn’t you lie to John Zambarano, Cardinalli asked, when you tried to convince him that you wanted to be a part of the conspiracy and were willing to throw a few votes because you needed the money? “I was playing a role for the FBI,” I said. “My role was to insert myself into the conspiracy and act like a willing participant that needed the money.” “Did you lie?” Cardinalli asked. “I wouldn’t call it a lie,” I said, “I would call it playing a role.” Cardinalli was relentless, aggressive and stern. It was clear to me that he too was playing a role, one he had played a hundred times before, and he was a far better attorney than I was a witness. I thought a judge might understand the distinctions that I was making, but I had my doubts that the jurors would. To the jurors, my words probably sounded like double talk and it looked, from the expressions on their collective faces, that they didn’t feel that my testimony was especially credible. I wondered why Donnelly wasn’t objecting and helping relieve some of the pressure and hoped that he might give me an opportunity to clarify some of my comments during re-cross.
The Providence Journal on-line account of the trial that day described the action of the councilmen as “an extortion conspiracy” and noted that the three corrupt councilmen “were arrested in 2010 and later imprisoned in 2011 after they admitted to extorting bribes from Baccari…” Wow, I thought as I read the story on my cell phone later that day, it certainly seems that the Providence Journal is buying into Cardinalli’s spin of the events!
As the day’s testimony drew to a close, Prosecutor John McAdams used his opportunity at re-cross to try to clarify some of my statements by asking me if I knew the difference between extortion and bribery. “I thought they were almost interchangeable,” I said. “Are you aware that the two are mutually exclusive?” he asked. “No sir,” I responded feeling somewhat relieved that there might now be clarity to some of my statements.
I was back on the stand bright and early Thursday morning wondering where today’s questioning might take me. I knew from discussion that I had with prosecutors during trial prep that Cardinalli would more than likely try to convince the jury that I was one of the bad guys, but I wasn’t sure how he would go about doing that. I quickly learned that he would try to do it with my own words. FBI Special Agent Pitcavage had warned when I first agreed to wear a wire that I shouldn’t take any notes, but I defied him. I was about to get a tough lesson on why I should have taken his advice.
Cardinalli pulled out the manuscript of my writings tentatively titled Wired: How I Took Down a Ruthless Government in one of America’s Most Corrupt Towns. The defense attorney walked over to the witness box and tossed the manuscript on the podium at which I stood prompting a vociferous objection from McAdams. “Your Honor,” he intoned, “please instruct Mr. Cardinalli not to throw things at my witness.” Before Judge McConnell could respond Cardinalli apologized, “I’m sorry, your honor, it slipped out of my hand. I didn’t offend you did I Mr. Caranci?” “No sir,” I responded. “I’m not easily offended!” I discovered that Cardinalli was not easily amused!
His apologetic attitude lasted only seconds as he began to question my motives for cooperating with the FBI arguing that my actions were the product of a desire to write a book from which I hoped to profit. I explained that writing was my coping mechanism, a way to deal with the extraordinary stress and pressure that I was under. I pointed out the difference between a book and a manuscript noting that over the course of time I had other writing commitments and was no longer sure if I would even try to publish a book of my experiences. He questioned my defiance of the FBI’s admonition against taking notes and asked if I intended to include Baccari’s trial in the manuscript. “I may,” I answered. “It would make the perfect ending to your book, wouldn’t it?” he questioned. “I think it already has a good ending,” I said.
The trial was expected to continue on Monday, October 20th, but over the weekend the defense team informed Judge John J. McConnell that they had called their last witness on Friday deciding against the need of many of the witnesses that appeared on the list submitted at the beginning of trial. Proceedings were paused by McConnell and jurors were told to return on Tuesday morning to hear closing arguments. Fate had other plans however, as the restlessness now confronting the defendant, his family, the defense team and the government prosecutors apparently wasn’t confined only to the courtroom.
Outside, a restless squirrel entered a metal pipe that carried electricity at the National Grid power station damaging that equipment. David Graves, an electric company spokesman, said there were reports of an explosion because the loud noise that occurred when the power released sounded like one. The furry interference caused a blackout in much of the downtown Providence area including the federal courthouse where the trial proceedings were taking place. In all, about 4,500 customers were without power and after about an hour of waiting in the dark, without a guarantee that power would be restored reasonably soon, Judge McConnell postponed the proceedings telling the jurors they could go home and promising prosecutors, who were in the middle of their closing arguments, that they could have a “do over” the following day. Ironically power was restored to the District Court building about 20 minutes later.
Wednesday October 23, 2014 brought with it grey, overcast skies that foreshadowed the expected rain and thunderstorms ahead. The chilly morning air outside the Federal Building contrasted starkly with the heat of the closing arguments that ensued inside in Judge McConnell’s courtroom. Assistant U.S. Attorney John McAdams played tape after tape of recorded conversations between me and former councilman John Zambarano. He noted that during the four months that the defendant schemed with the North Providence councilmen, Baccari didn’t act like a victim. “People who are victims try to get help,” McAdams said, “but Baccari didn’t tell a soul” except Bob Ciresi who served as his middleman. McAdams recounted the negotiations that took place with Zambarano at Churchill & Banks office when he asked Ciresi to leave the room and dictated the terms of the scheme by insisting that no money would exchange hands until after the favorable vote had been taken. “Mr. Baccari shook on it and again dictated the terms,” the prosecutor said, “Nothing, until the job is done,” emphasizing the details of the arrangement.
Aware that he had himself called Zambarano a liar on earlier occasions, McAdams explained that Zambarano didn’t always lie. He recounted how Zambarano had accurately described how the money would be paid following the February 10, 2009 Council vote and that he subsequently visited the home of former councilman Ray Douglas to deliver to his co-conspirators their share of the bribe money. McAdams also emphasized “that the bribe payment to Zambarano – whose eagerness for getting paid is what made Caranci suspicious in the first place – did not take place until after the Feb 10 vote. At that point, the prosecutor suggested, after the votes were in, an extortion victim wouldn’t need to pay anything. Baccari could have laughed at Zambarano, he said.”
Baccari, who faced fines and imprisonment of up to ten years, sat at the defense table rather stoically throughout McAdams closing argument occasionally displaying his emotions with a shake of the head or a raised eyebrow.
But Baccari wasn’t a victim of extortion, McAdams assured the jurors, nor was he a struggling small business owner. Rather, he was one of the most successful businessmen in Rhode Island. When the project failed following the arrests of the corrupt councilmen, “the sky didn’t fall…Baccari continued to drive that Bentley,” he said. “So the defenses’ claim that Baccari, of Narragansett, was economically coerced is not reasonable.” Baccari paid a bribe. “He had motive to pay it. He paid it, and you know it,” McAdams said.
Cardinalli was not deterred in the closing arguments for Baccari. He asked the jurors rhetorically, “Why did the corrupt councilmen double the payoff amount, from $25,000 to $50,000, if they were not leveraging and economically coercing Baccari? What happened here was a shakedown,” Cardinalli affirmed. “If Baccari knew that a bribe had ensured that the zoning changes were a done deal, he wouldn’t have continued to keep spending money on traffic studies and on public relations efforts in the neighborhood of the proposed project site.”
He reminded the jury that he had submitted evidence showing that Baccari and his wife suffered a $600,000 loss in 2009 due to the bad economy and said that “certain character witnesses, who testified to Baccari’s integrity and honesty as a businessman, had raised ‘reasonable doubt.’”
Cardinalli had a way of sounding very convincing and a talent that enabled jurors to see the flip side of a story. He used that talent to explain to jurors that even Zambarano’s changing versions of the story prompted doubt as the tapes revealed that he initially described Baccari’s offer of $25,000 for the required four votes, but later changed the account “to depict a situation where Zambarano is demanding money.”
In closing, Cardinalli presented the jurors one last rhetorical question, one that he would answer himself. Why, if Bob Ciresi was acting as a bagman for Baccari, would he have asked Ciresi to leave him alone in the room with Zambarano as the lying councilman would have you believe? “It’s just a story that Zambarano is telling you,” Cardinalli said, “and of course it’s one that they love. The government loves this story.” If Zambarano had any doubts that the money wouldn’t be paid he would have stopped the vote, the mob attorney concluded.
Shortly thereafter, jurors were given their instructions by Judge McConnell and retired to the anti-room for deliberations. Just a few short hours later they were back with a verdict. At McConnell’s prompting, the jury foreman responded “Not Guilty,” when asked if the jury had reached their verdict. The same verdict was repeated for Churchill & Banks. Baccari smiled broadly as some members of his family and some of his attorneys cried.
Speaking with reporters outside the courtroom, Cardinalli said the jury believed what he had told them. “Mr. Baccari was the victim of a shakedown, and was threatened by the loss of an extreme amount of money by these jackals,” Cardinalli said.
For his part, U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha said in a press release issued after the verdict that he was “disappointed, but that the case had to be prosecuted and our prosecutions will continue to include those who pay bribes to corrupt public officials themselves. Those who pay bribes as a cost of doing business are every bit as responsible for the corruption that plagues this state as the public officials who demand them. We will continue our efforts to hold everyone involved in such corrupt activity – everyone – to account. There is no reason that Rhode Island has to be a pay-to-play state. When a developer or other private citizen is approached to pay a bribe, there is only one answer: to refuse to pay it and go to the authorities. When you pay you are part of the problem. Most Rhode Islanders approached by corrupt politicians understand this. Until everyone does, it will be difficult for our state to move beyond its unfortunate reputation. In this case, prosecutors attempted to hold everyone to account for their role. On balance, that quest was successful.
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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- Wired: 2010 Part 3, A Book by Paul Caranci
- Wired: 2011 Part 1, A Book by Paul Caranci
- Wired: 2011 Part 2, A Book by Paul Caranci
- Wired: 2011 Part 3, A Book by Paul Caranci
- Wired: 2010 Part 2, A Book by Paul Caranci
- Wired: 2010 Part 1, A Book by Paul Caranci
- Wired: 2002 to 2008 Part 2, A Book by Paul Caranci
- Wired: 2009 Part 1, A Book by Paul Caranci
- Wired: 2009 Part 2, A Book by Paul Caranci
- Wired: 2011 Part 4, A Book by Paul Caranci