Wired: Introduction, a Book by Paul F. Caranci

Monday, March 06, 2017

 

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Paul Caranci

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

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

Buy the book by CLICKING HERE

PREFACE

“No man who has projected the Subversion of his Country will employ Force and Violence, till he has, by sowing the seeds of corruption, ripen’d it for Servility and Acquiescence: He will conceal his Design, till he spies an Opportunity of accomplishing his Iniquity by a single Blow.”

~William Livingston

 

Our Republic allows for the free elections of local men and women who desire to serve their community. Of course, in a democratic republic, the victor of an election, especially a municipal election, isn't always the most qualified candidate, nor necessarily the most educated or the most honest person for the job. Sometimes the victor is simply the most popular of the choices on the ballot, the fastest talker or the best looking competitor. Regardless of the selected criteria used by a voter when choosing his or her political leaders, all elected officials, even those elected in the smallest of towns, are entrusted by the people they are elected to serve with the awesome task of providing honest, ethical, and moral leadership. Virtually every decision made by that leader, whether good or bad, may well impact the quality of life in a small town for years to follow. 

Trustworthy leadership, however, is not always the product of our electoral process. At times the electorate is fooled into electing self-serving despots to office. These self-centered, greedy, money-grabbing officials use their public positions to cheat and steal from an otherwise gullible and unsuspecting public. Examples of corruption are found in every state in the union and very possibly within every municipal jurisdiction within those states. 

However, corruption comes in many forms. Sometimes it is easily identifiable, while at other times the corrupt nature of deeds may not be so obvious. A good example of the latter is the honest graft that was described by George Washington Plunkett, the powerful Irish-American leader of New York’s Tammany Hall political machine in the early 20th century. Plunkett believed that taking personal financial advantage of “insider information” gained while serving the public, was both legal and honorable. “There's an honest graft," he wrote memorably on the subject of payoffs, "and I'm an example of how it works." Plunkett bragged,

“Just let me explain by examples. My party's in power in the city, and it's going to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I'm tipped off, say, that they're going to lay out a new park at a certain place. I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for. Ain't it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course, it is. Well, that's honest graft and I'm lookin' for it every day in the year. I will tell you frankly that I've got a good lot of it, too.”

Such concealment, or a blurring of the lines between right and wrong, may have been the intent in the tiny town of Bell, California. There in 2010, the mayor, several council members, and other public officials were arrested and charged with accepting salaries far in excess of what their positions allowed. Their indictments allege that they were paid for serving on subcommittees that, in some cases, never met. As a result of the scandals, one reporter wrote, “Bell has become a national byword for brazen municipal venality.” The Bell case has been described as “corruption on steroids.”

In 2009, Rod Blagojevich, the embattled governor of Illinois, was indicted on several counts of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the election of President Barack Obama. At the conclusion of his second trial in 2011 he was found guilty of all charges in the indictment and sentenced to 14 years in prison. The shockingly long sentence was even greater than the 6½ years doled out to his predecessor just a few years earlier.

In Alaska, 40-year U.S. Senate veteran, Ted Stevens, was convicted of accepting thousands of dollars in home renovations and fancy trimmings from an oil executive and then lying about it. For a month jurors heard how VECO Corporation, an oil services company, modernized Stevens' mountain cabin into a two-story home with wraparound porches, a wine cellar, and a sauna. Stevens said his wife handled the business of the renovation. Maintaining his innocence, he insisted that he paid $160,000 for the project and believed that was full payment of the cost of improvements. As proof that corruption even exists within the confines of law enforcement, Stevens’ conviction was overturned two days after he lost his bid for reelection when prosecutors admitted that they withheld crucial evidence that might have served to exonerate him.

The above-referenced cases, and so many others like them, may have a much higher profile than the case involving the public officials in the small Town of North Providence, Rhode Island, but the culture of corruption that existed within this municipal government is a microcosm of what happens all over the world. It is also every bit as enticing.

In May 2009 Washington Examiner columnist Michael Barone coined the phrase “gangster government.” Barone was writing about government’s excessive taxation of big oil companies, but David Freddoso borrowed the phrase for the title of his book and applied it to the political and governmental antics of Chicago, Illinois. Freddoso wrote, “Actually, what makes Chicago unique, or at least noteworthy, is that it is a municipal dictatorship. Its politics are both crooked and brutal. Its elected officials believe, almost to a man, that they are above the law.” Freddoso relays a story of corruption at Meigs Airport in Illinois as one example of “gangster government, of ends justifying the means, of government power being abused to reward friends and punish enemies.” Freddoso comments, “In Chicago, politically connected contractors think it's safe to defraud the public. Political appointees run bribery and extortion rackets from their positions of power.”

Freddoso is accurate in much of his description. However, one might disagree with his belief in Chicago’s exclusivity on the type of political crime he describes. Throughout this book, it becomes evident that substituting the name “Chicago” with that of “North Providence” would change nothing in Freddoso's writing. Like government in Bell, California, the North Providence scandals can also be described as “corruption on steroids.” One major difference is the incredible way that the corruption in North Providence was exposed.

This book describes some horrific events perpetrated by local elected officials who abused the public trust and misused the awesome power entrusted to them. The events described herein, however, should not define their lives. For the most part, these are decent people who were seduced by the power that political position imparts. They have accomplished some good things over the years and their lives should not be defined by a short time punctuated by greed and avarice. We are all human and consequently prone to error. No sin is too great that forgiveness should not be far behind. I hope the reader will bear this in mind and in lieu of casting judgment learn from the lessons of history.

 

INTRODUCTION

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference”

~By Robert Frost, from "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

 

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

~By Robert Frost, from "The Road Not Taken"

 

TEMPTING FATE

It happened hundreds of times before. Sitting behind the steering wheel of my SUV, parked in one of several clandestine meeting places he had chosen. The meetings took place right out in the open, but he was careful to change the location almost on a daily basis to make it more difficult for someone to recognize a pattern thereby avoiding suspicion. From his familiar place in the passenger seat, he fumbled through the pages of his notebook carefully recording each word that I said. Today however, as he lowered his pen, he gazed straight ahead and asked “Now you’re not writing anything down, right?” He had asked the same question a few times before, and my confirmation that I was not taking any notes generally satisfied his curiosity. His tone at this meeting however was more indicative of a statement than a question. Perhaps I hesitated a bit too long before answering causing him to turn toward me. More than just a head turn, he practically faced me as if to accentuate the seriousness of his question. I could feel the agent’s blue eyes pierce the chilly air and I tried not to look in his direction. “Paul, you’re not writing anything down…are you?” he demanded. “Well, I may have taken a few notes,” I murmured almost under my breath hoping we could move on. The jovial mood of my FBI handler changed like a chameleon’s colors. “Damn it Paul, I told you not to take any notes, not to write anything down. Do you know what you’ve done?” he asked in a rather loud voice. I recognized the rhetorical nature of his question and remained silent. “Why did you do that after I told you not to? Do you know the grief you’ve caused…?” He had never spoken to me in that tone. His explosive tirade, though only a few seconds long, seemed to drone on for hours. Partly because of the disappointment I knew I caused him and partly because of my stress level from working undercover with the FBI for so long, I snapped. “You know what Jim,” I shouted, “I’m done. You got what you need, so go fuck yourself. I’m done!”

Ignoring my remarks he continued his berating.

“I tell you not to write anything down for your own good. Everything you wrote is now discoverable. The defense is going to analyze every word and look for inconsistencies with the official record. What may have been just two days on the witness stand may now have turned into two weeks! Why would you do that?”

“No, I’m done,” I repeated, “Get the fuck out of my car! You got all the evidence you need, you don’t need me anymore!” Resorting back to his normally reassuring tone, he tried to calm me down, but it was too late. I had snapped. The pressure finally overcame me and I just couldn’t take anymore. I was done. Compliantly he left the SUV and I drove off.

Serving as an elected official had been one of my dreams since 1973. Perhaps one day I could be elected mayor, but for now at least, I set my sights on the North Providence Town Council. With college graduation just a little over one year in my rear view mirror, I knew I could channel my energies and newly acquired political science degree to help improve the town that my family had called home since my paternal grandmother emigrated here from Campobasso, a province in the southern part of Italy, in 1914. I’d daydream about becoming a driving force in local government by being that one public official who could unite the different political parties for the common good. I had a lot to offer; time, an understanding of the changes necessary to improve the quality of life in my small town, and, above all, the virtues of honesty and integrity. I was still naive and very idealistic and didn't yet realize that political theory as learned at Providence College and the political system that awaited me in the streets of North Providence were planets orbiting the suns of two entirely different solar systems.

The dream however, realized some 16 years later, gradually morphed into a nightmare. What foiled my dream was not a lack of vision or a failure to understand how to resolve the problems that plagued the town, but rather an imbedded culture of corruption that caused the rejection of the good ideas necessary to improve our quality of life. Nothing good could be accomplished with a majority of the council members supporting the proposals of those corrupted by materialism and avarice.

Historian Edwin G. Barrows wrote,

“Corruption in government – the betrayal of an office or duty for consideration – is a familiar subject among American historians, but for several reasons, the history of corruption as such is not. For one thing, corruption has never denoted a specific kind or form of misconduct, much less a specific crime. No one has ever gone to jail for it. It is essentially only an accusation that encompasses a large and shifting ensemble of determinate abuses – bribery, fraud, graft, extortion, embezzlement, influence peddling, ticket fixing, nepotism – not all of which have always been recognized as improper; some of which continue to be regarded as more consequential than others; most of which have been defined in different ways at different times; and each of which, arguably, deserve a quite different historical treatment.”

Regardless of the definition or historical consequences of past transgressions, my vision of working to help the constituents that I was elected to represent turned into a quest to root out corruption thereby enabling me, or others sharing my dream, to provide the honest public service that would allow senior citizens and young hard-working families alike to keep their homes in the face of the financial hard times that would overtake the community.

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Wired by Paul F. Caranci

I was not one of those elected officials that craved friendship from the colleagues I served with. Sure I wanted to get along with them, but felt no need to socialize with them simply because we shared a public office. Other than being elected to preside over town business, we actually had little in common. Vast age differences, varying social interests and different lifestyles were just some of the things that forged a chasm between us. I worked two and three jobs most of my life. I had a wife and a family and I was working on a second bachelors and a master’s degree during my years on the Council. I spent a significant amount of time with my family, reading, studying and working. I didn’t have much time to socialize and when I did, I wanted to do it with my family and best friends, not with Council colleagues. They, after all, were not really my friends. They were simply political colleagues and at times, even political adversaries. President Harry Truman shared his recognition of this universal truth when he quipped. “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” 

Admittedly this attitude contributed to my being cast an outsider by the other elected officials. I could accept that. What I could little tolerate however was having good ideas trivialized because the concept originated from someone outside of the “clique.” That’s not what I considered good public service to be all about and I expected the Council to provide good public service. 

Over the 16 plus years that I served on the Council, I rejected that reality. I attempted to work with the other Council members in the promotion of some proposals by including them in my initiatives and asking to be included in theirs. I talked with them about working together for the benefit of the people we served. I joked with them, occasionally socialized with them, attended municipal conferences with them and compromised on some of my proposals to support their ideas even if I didn’t think those ideas were particularly well thought out. Nothing curtailed their opposition to my initiatives. The culmination of their oppositional behavior was a spiraling $10.5 million cumulative budget deficit, a whopping 17% tax increase in a single year preceded and proceeded by a series of smaller tax increases, preferential treatment of certain people who appeared before the Council and a total disregard for the best interest of the residents that they and I had sworn to protect. I felt that I was left with only one option to stop the corruption, but employing that option required doing very distasteful things. Nonetheless, I was forced to take the one action that I knew would result in dramatic changes in my life. I knew that I would face ridicule, the potential loss of my job as well the loss of friendships that I had enjoyed for more than 20 years. I feared the reaction of some very close friends and some family members. And, I feared that I might have to leave the only place I had ever called home, the State of Rhode Island.

After discussing the option and its consequences with my wife Margie, we decided to take the dramatic and difficult steps necessary to finally put an end to the corruption that prevented the town I cared so much about from moving forward. We contacted the FBI and I agreed to work with them undercover to bring down the culture of corruption that was destroying the place I loved. In the process of the seventeen month undercover operation we would risk everything important to us; our health and safety and the safety of our children, my career and our livelihoods, our friends, our home, our peace of mind, and our comfortable way of life in the small Town of North Providence.

While the successful undercover operation resulted in the arrest and conviction of seven people, there are still many corrupt influences operating within our town. Some are identified in this book, however, the citizens of North Providence and those residing in municipalities across our fifty states must demand that their elected officials remain vigilant in their efforts to root out all corrupt influences and bring those culpable to justice. Without the public's leadership, this town, and many like it throughout America, may continue down the road to eventual insolvency accompanied by the moral ambiguity that corruption will cause.

 

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

 

Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s History of Political Corruption

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Buddy Cianci

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

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

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Joseph Bevilacqua

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

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

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

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

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Thomas Fay

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

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

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

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Brian J. Sarault

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

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

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

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Edward DiPrete

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

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

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

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Plunder Dome

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

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

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

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

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

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N. Providence Councilmen

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

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

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Charles Moreau

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

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

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

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Joe Almeida

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

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Gordon Fox

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

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

 
 

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