Wired: Part 1 & 2 1968 to 1975, a Book by Paul F. Caranci

Monday, March 13, 2017

 

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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

 

Part 1 

The Road to Prison 

 

2011

HOW DID THINGS GO THIS FAR

 

“Let me go! I’m not fit to be a senator! I’m not fit to live! Expel me, not him! Willet Dam is a fraud! It’s a crime against the people that sent me here – and I committed it! Every word that boy said is the truth! Every word about Taylor and me and graft and that rotten political corruption of my state! Every word of it is true! I’m not fit for office! I’m not fit for any place of honor or trust! Expel me, not that boy!”

~Senator Joseph Paine, from the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

 

He was led swiftly out of the courtroom surrounded by family members and his attorney. One can only imagine what the forty-four year old former public official was thinking. Perhaps his mind drifted off to better times; that proud moment when he was named an All-State quarterback at LaSalle Academy, his graduation from St. Thomas University in Miami where he received his degree in public relations and communications, his wedding day or the birth of his daughter. Perhaps his thoughts were of his January 1999 inauguration as a member of the North Providence Town Council following his first election a few months earlier. In his mind's eye he could probably see his parents and grandparents beaming with pride from their front row seats of the high school auditorium as he raised his right hand and pledged to uphold the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Rhode Island as well as the laws of the state and the charter of the Town of North Providence. He proudly and excitedly repeated the words read by his good friend, Town Clerk Joseph Rendine, while pledging his honest services to the people of the town.

But today, right now, everything was happening so fast and there was mass confusion all around him. Reporters with outstretched arms jockeyed for position and pushed microphones toward his face with little apparent regard for his personal anguish. Television cameramen chased after him hoping for just a word, maybe a hint of an explanation as to why he did it. Despite his bold proclamation of May 6, 2010 that he “would have plenty to say at one time,” he didn't speak a word as he exited the federal courthouse and headed for the back door of the waiting white sedan. His brother rushed to open the door ahead of him and closed it quickly as former Councilman Joseph Burchfield disappeared into the security of the back seat. As he tightened the seat belt around his waist he seemed to stare out the window right passed the throngs of reporters as if they were invisible to him, or he to them.

Just a little more than one year ago everything was going his way. At a relatively young age the lean six-footer had a wonderful wife, a beautiful home, and a great job as a $52,927 a year constituent liaison for the Rhode Island State Senate. He also worked part-time as a ring announcer for Classic Entertainment and Sports, for the Fox Network, ESPN, Cox Cable and the Mohegan Sun Casino. He was a 12-year veteran of the North Providence Town Council and was serving in his third year as the body’s president. The former regional manager for Wealth Management Concepts, a local mortgage company, typically enjoyed the support of 6 of the 7 Council members generally resulting in his ability to conduct town affairs pretty much as he wanted. He worked closely with Mayor Charles Lombardi as he had with former Mayor A. Ralph Mollis and was able to enjoy the perks that such relationships bring. His wife, too, had a good state job working at the R.I. State Board of Elections, and together the couple had all the joy that an 8-year-old daughter could bring to a home.

It is much easier to imagine the scene that played out on May 6, 2010. We’ve seen it portrayed hundreds of times on television shows such as the popular Law & Order series and today it’s likely that Burchfield just couldn’t erase those images from his mind. On that day in the not-so-distant past, as the light from the dawning sun danced through the windows of his bedroom, Burchfield probably heard a loud knock, more of a banging, on his front door. It was only 5:58 A.M., but the banging on the door continued. Making his way into the hall leading to the front door he couldn’t have imagined who waited on the outside. He probably never dreamed that the person standing on the other side of the door would change his life forever.

FBI, open the door, Jim Pitcavage likely yelled from the front step of Burchfield's 2,600 square foot ranch condominium in the exclusive Lees Farm Commons. The FBI? All kinds of thoughts must have flooded his mind and he probably had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as he reached for the doorknob. In an instant all the things he had done wrong over the past several years undoubtedly flashed through his mind. He most likely thought about hiding or running, but where could he go? No, he had to stay and face his fears. Opening the door he finally heard the words that would forever and irrevocably change his world. Joseph Burchfield, you are under arrest for bribery and extortion. You have the right to remain silent the agent undoubtedly said as he pulled Burchfield's arms around his back and tightened the cuffs around his wrists. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, an attorney will be provided to you free of charge... As with all things that happen so unexpectedly it must have seemed like it was taking place in slow motion. Just like that he was whisked away to a waiting car and hauled off to a holding cell in the federal court building to await arraignment.

Burchfield had to know that he was in a world of trouble. What he probably did not know as he fidgeted in the back seat of the cruiser was that federal agents were replaying this same scene at the homes of Councilmen John Zambarano and Raymond Douglas, III. He also had no idea how he got caught. 

On this day, however, some 54 weeks after the day of his arrest, Burchfield stood before Federal Judge Mary Lisi. This was the second time in the past few months that Burchfield stood in the mahogany majesty of Judge Lisi's courtroom. The last time he was admitting his guilt in the years-long conspiracy. Today, in a federal building occupying the exact spot of Abraham Lincoln’s stump speech to the people of Providence on February 28, 1860, Burchfield provided the details of his role in the prolonged, ill-conceived conspiracy to extort over $130,000 in bribes from several local businessmen in exchange for favorable votes on the Town Council. A zone change, an amendment to the town's comprehensive plan, extended hours at a hot wiener restaurant and a liquor license at a cigar parlor were among the many extortion attempts initiated by the trio of officeholders.

Following his allocution, Burchfield apologized to the court for his actions and poor judgment, which he blamed on a dependency on prescription painkillers and alcoholism. He appeared broken, just a shadow of the confident politician whose blind ambition and inflated ego prompted him to declare his candidacy to run for every higher office that became available in North Providence. This was his time to listen and he did so attentively, head bowed and tears at the brink of release from his bloodshot eyes. Judge Lisi was stern and straightforward as she berated him for his behavior. “You held a leadership position in what we now know was nothing more than a criminal organization. This defendant was president of the North Providence Town Council, and, in that position, he and his co-conspirators ran a shakedown operation.” At the conclusion of her admonishment, Lisi sentenced him to 5 years and 6 months in a federal prison to be followed by 3 years of probation. He was also ordered to return his share of the $46,000 bribe money that was actually collected and to pay $10,000 in fines. With that pronouncement Judge Lisi slammed her gavel against the sounding board as if to accentuate the severity of the sentence she had just imposed.

Joe’s extended family, many of whom filled the seats in the small courtroom, gasped audibly as the Judge read the sentence. She had given Burchfield the exact sentence suggested by the prosecutors while completely ignoring his own attorney's plea for leniency and a sentence of only two years to serve. The long sentence, a near record sentence for a political crime in the small state of Rhode Island, was meant to send a clear message from Judge Lisi that crimes such as these will not be tolerated and will be dealt with harshly.

As the white sedan quickly pulled away from the curb, Burchfield was once again left to ponder the events of the past. Over the last 12 months he probably replayed his misdeeds over and over in his mind wondering why he ever agreed to participate in such a corrupt scheme. He was not raised that way. He wasn't a thug. He was from a very well respected, hardworking family. He himself was taught by example the principles of hard work as a young boy working for his father in the Classic Restaurant & Lounge located a mile or so from his home. The entire family was comprised of industrious, successful businessmen and professionals and they were ethical, upstanding citizens of the community. He knew he had not been raised in the ways of corruption and probably cursed the day that he was drawn into what the prosecuting attorneys referred to as a kleptocracy. He surely grieved for the family he shamed by his actions. Above all, he must have thought with contempt about me, a fellow councilman whom Burchfield and his cohorts had trusted to provide the necessary fourth vote in their conspiratorial activities. 

I had actually worked surreptitiously with the FBI to negotiate my way into the scheme for the purpose of exposing their criminal activity and provided enough evidence to force guilty pleas from four of the five conspirators. Burchfield may have wondered why a colleague that he believed he treated as a friend would betray his trust.

The answer to that question lies in the historical relationships I had with the others who shared the Council bench with me, not just in 2010, but in the 16 years prior as well. In order to understand what drove me to reach out to the FBI in an attempt to end the abusive corruption that eroded the democratic process in North Providence one must have an appreciation, or at the very least a cursory understanding, of the local politics of that time. The following pages provide a historical perspective of my political beginnings. Through my eyes, you will see how profound political burdens were thrust upon me and how corruption denied the people of North Providence a fighting chance at reform. Ultimately, this dynamic, and the people’s loss of honest representation at the hands of a few well-positioned heavies that ran the town’s political operation, played heavily into my decision to work undercover with the FBI. Some will empathize with my actions while others never will. But the background provides some insight into the motivation that led to my participation in an operation that pierced the corrupt and corrosive political machinery that for far too long plagued the political system of this small town.

 

PART II

DREAMING OF LIFE IN ELECTED SERVICE

1968

AN INTRODUCTION
TO LOCAL POLITICS 101

 

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The underdog always occupied a special place in my heart, though I never really gave a thought to the reasons why. It’s possible that the underdog generally espoused the very positions with which I most agreed. That may be the reason for my support of a man who always felt disadvantaged by the media. Despite the reason, in 1968, the year I turned 13, I leafleted my overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning neighborhood for Richard Nixon in his second bid to become President of the United States. After receiving the working papers that allowed me to earn my keep during the summer between the eighth grade and my freshman year of high school, I was given a job courtesy of Councilman Sal Mancini. I spent a good part of the summer unloading delivery trucks and stocking shelves at Ace Hardware in Centredale, a store owned by Mancini and the place from which he directed the political affairs of North Providence. “Sal,” as he was known throughout the state, was a wealthy businessman. He owned both the only hardware store and the only liquor store in the village. He was also an old time Democrat party boss in many ways like Chicago’s former Mayor Richard Daily and Boston’s former Mayor James Michael Curley. First taking office as a reform insurgent in 1964, he quickly became a powerhouse in this 5.4 square mile town. As the Council president in a town that had no mayor, Sal controlled all political patronage and set the agenda for all town business. In addition to handing out jobs, he accumulated favors and support by frequently using town resources to reward current supporters and to entice new ones. His political opponents accused him of paving more than a couple of driveways when the paving contractor was resurfacing a road. He was accused of authorizing a public works employee to use a town backhoe to dig the hole on private property that would enable a homeowner to connect to town water or sewer. These things took place in a simpler time, before the days of the R.I. Ethics Commission or the public clamor for transparent government, and this brand of politics was practiced in many big cities. Sal found a way of replicating this dubious system within small town politics. After years of imparting such favors on the Town’s dime, it was hard to find someone who had not been the beneficiary of Sal’s “magnanimity”. It was harder to find anyone that would stand up to his political power. He did business with a handshake, not with written contracts. His word was as good as gold and his vengeance against those who opposed him was legendary. He wasn’t a tall man or an exceptionally good looking one, but his shock of wavy white hair and his warm distinguished smile could melt any female heart and command the respect of their male counterparts. Neither was he a gifted public speaker, but one-on-one, he could out maneuver the most ardent and seasoned negotiator!

My father dabbled on the fringes of local politics. He campaigned for Sal and knew he was the guy to see for a large favor or to simply obtain a summer job for his son. With no jobs in town government for a thirteen year old, the Hardware store was a position where Sal could easily place me. My father, who seemed obviously pleased that I wanted to work through the summer, gave me just one piece of advice. “Don’t discuss politics with him,” my father warned. “Just agree with whatever he says.” I began working with every good intention of heeding my father’s advice, but I couldn’t sit silent as Sal berated and belittled Richard Nixon! “That’s not true,” I remember protesting, “Nixon wants to end the war, not escalate it. He’s got a plan and I trust him.” Looking back, I was naïve and Sal was right. But no one could have convinced me of that in 1968. Nixon was a good and decent man, and no one, not even the guy who gave me my first job, was going to tell me otherwise. I worked just 6 weeks of that summer and saved and spent equal portions of the $1.60 I earned for each of the 40 hours I labored every week. By Mid-1969, I would complete my first year of high school and, despite Sal’s efforts, Richard Nixon was my president. Life held such great promise!1972

AN INTRODUCTION
TO LOCAL POLITICS 102

The transition to high school was academically difficult and attention to my studies would prevent me from resuming my political activity until 1972. Of course Nixon was up for re-election during my senior year, but of equal importance was that my high school class adviser, Louis Lanni, asked me to support his uncle Mike Lanni in a run for council-at-large. Lou Lanni was a charismatic high school English teacher not much older than many of the students he taught. He became adviser to my freshman class and, because of his youthful appearance, playful attitude and boyish good looks, a friend to many of the students at the school. He was a fun-loving guy with a quick wit and a curious brand of humor that touched many students. His uncle was running as a Democrat against Independent candidate John A. Celona. John was a High School senior when he decided to seek election. It was a decision made possible by the July 1, 1971 passage of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution extending the right to vote and consequently, to run for political office, to eighteen year olds. I preferred Republican Henry (Hank) Mazzuchelli, but Mr. Lanni was very persuasive and it suddenly became less important to me that his uncle was a Democrat or that most of my high school friends were supporting Celona, their classmate. Even though both Lanni and Celona lost the election to Mazzuchelli, Celona captured enough votes as an independent to attract Sal’s attention. In 1974, Sal would tap Celona as the Democrat’s District 2 candidate for Town Council, a seat he would win handily with Sal’s support.

 

1973

MANCINI FOR MAYOR

 

In North Providence, a newly approved town charter meant that we would elect our first mayor in a 1973 special election. Arthur Corvese, a high school friend that I nicknamed “Doc” because of his interest in attending medical school, convinced me that I should abandon any thoughts of supporting District 2 Councilman Anthony Caranci, the Republican candidate and a distant cousin, in favor of Sal Mancini. Doc presented some compelling arguments in support of his candidate and I relented. More than anything else, this is the event that led me to become a Democrat, although I never abandoned my rather conservative principals. The election results were never in doubt in this middle-class, predominantly Italo-American town. Despite the presence of 3 Republicans on the Town Council, all hailing from the maverick 2nd District, the town was overwhelmingly Democrat. With Sal Mancini elected the first mayor, thereby vacating his Council seat, Budget Commissioner and next-door neighbor John Rhude was named to replace him on the town Council. The loss of the exceptionally honest and hard-working Anthony Caranci from elected office in 1976 started a decline of two-party representation in North Providence and the emergence of an all-Democrat town government that still exists over 4 decades later.

 

Frank Darigan - The Perfect Candidate

 

In the fall of 1973 I began my first semester at Providence College and had a chance opportunity to meet charismatic Providence Councilman Frank Darigan. During the first week on campus Darigan was standing outside the cafeteria shaking hands with students, many of whom, as a result of their on or off-campus residence, now voted in Providence. Frank was a tall, clean cut, distinguished looking guy who represented the south side of the City. The articulate, handsome attorney was running in the 1974 election for Mayor of Providence, a city under the control of Mayor Joseph Doorley. He was spending part of this day recruiting volunteers and meeting potential voters. It took only a 15 minute conversation to realize that this was the kind of person I wanted to support. The Diocese of Providence had elected the Providence College graduate Catholic Man of the Year. Even after a short conversation, he appeared to have more integrity than many politicians I had met to that point. I immediately signed up as a volunteer. Throughout the spring and summer of 1974 I leafleted the streets of Providence, made phone calls, stuffed envelopes and did whatever else I was asked for Frank’s election effort. I even convinced my childhood playmate and girlfriend Margie McCaughey, never a big fan of politics, to help out. On Primary night we all met at a VFW hall in South Providence to eagerly await the results. It’s difficult to recall anything more exciting to that point in my life. Frank lost a close election, but we were all encouraged by his strong showing at the polls. His memorable concession speech seemed to speak directly to me and I noted it in my journal. “Don’t be discouraged. Our work isn’t over; our fight for better government will go on. I thank you and I love you for all of your hard work.” I never heard a candidate talk about love in a speech. I couldn’t explain it, but something just felt right about this man. I would volunteer to work for him in his 1978 and 1982 campaigns as well. Although those campaigns met with the same disappointing conclusion, I made some good friends and many acquaintances: Matt Smith who would go on to be Speaker of the R.I. House of Representatives and play a big part in my life; attorney John Madden; Providence 7th Ward Chairman Vincent Igliozzi; firefighter Jim Creamer; attorney John Martinelli; and others. They would remain friends throughout much of my life, as would Frank himself who recently retired as a very distinguished Justice of the R.I. Superior Court.

 

1974

BUCKING THE SYSTEM

THE KEVEN MCKENNA CAMPAIGN

 

Keven McKenna, a Democrat and graduate from Georgetown Law School, decided to run for Lt. Governor in the 1974 Democrat Primary. He was challenging Senator Thomas DiLuglio who had both the support of Sal and the party’s endorsement. McKenna was known as someone who would challenge political authority and seemed, more often than not, to be on the side of right. The Georgetown grad appeared to be of extraordinary intelligence and was pro-life, a position that was very important to me. I decided to support him. I served the campaign with the same mundane tasks – leafleting, stuffing envelopes, and making phone calls – and election night yielded the same disappointing result, another loss. The emotion was tempered with familiarity however as I was growing accustomed to dealing with political defeat.

In retrospect there appears to be one common denominator in all the elections in which I was involved: The predilection of the candidate to go rogue. All of the candidates to which I was attracted were mavericks bucking an entrenched system and fighting against the “corruption of the status quo.” They all happened to represent change and were not afraid to challenge the authority of the establishment to achieve it. I admired that and believed that all good candidates should possess those qualities. Rather than achieving office to make friends with the powers that be, I embraced the candidates that had the desire and ability to challenge those powers for the sake of making a difference. Looking back, it is unclear if I gravitated toward these candidates because I possessed the same tenacious qualities or if I acquired and developed those qualities because of my early choice of candidates. In the grand scheme of things I guess it really doesn’t matter.

 

1975

POLITICAL LESSONS - 

THE RHODE ISLAND YOUNG DEMOCRATS

 

It may have been an off year for local and statewide elections, but for the R.I. Young Democrats (YD), 1975 was a memorable one. Our group of North Providence, mostly Italian political activists was challenging the established, mostly Irish incumbents for a single position on the Young Democrat’s Executive Board. Doc Corvese was our candidate and Fred Marzilli, John Celona, Bernie Frezza, Bill Bianchi, Margie McCaughey, Joe Piccardi, Charlie Palian, Kevin O’Brien, John Montecalvo, Paul Rinaldi and others appealed to YD President Susan McGuirl for her support of Corvese for the position of Secretary. Sue’s team included Tim Duffy, Joe Fleming, Maureen Massiwer, Paul Breault, Mike Ryan and others. Sue refused to support Doc saying she believed in her leadership team and wouldn’t oppose any of the incumbents seeking re-election. Her loyalty was admirable and she wouldn’t budge even knowing that her failure to support Doc might have political consequences. 

Never known to do things in a small way, our North Providence delegation decided that if we needed to fight for one seat, we may as well campaign for all of them. We submitted an entire slate of officers to oppose the incumbents, with John Celona, the President of the newly chartered North Providence Chapter of the R.I. Young Democrats, leading our slate as the candidate for President.

Ironically enough, the YD election was coming at a time when North Providence Democrat Councilman John Ricci was mounting a primary challenge for mayor against Mancini. Ricci was from Lymansville in the Town’s 3rd District and had the backing of State Party Chairman Charles Riley, Lt. Governor J. Joseph Garrahy, State Representative Bob Sweeney, State Senator Joseph DiStefano and the incumbent faction of the R.I. Young Democrats, most of whom were Irish. Naturally, the YD faction supporting the Celona slate favored Mancini. The R.I. Young Democrats elections morphed into a battle between Mancini and Ricci. Sal also used the election of our slate as a sounding board for our strength as a group to determine our value in his upcoming re-election effort. With a majority of active members attending the monthly meetings belonging to our faction, we were able to ensure that the YD Convention would be held on our “home turf” at the Dillion Council Knights of Columbus Hall on Douglas Ave in North Providence. In this way we would be able to persuade a large number of North Providence residents, most of whom supported Mancini, to attend. The cost of joining the Young Democrats was $5.00 and the only condition for membership was that the member be between the ages of 13 and 35 years old. Therefore, the ability to recruit new members would be a major factor in the successful election of one slate or the other. Recognizing the importance of this election as an indication of youth support in the mayoral election, Sal provided John Celona’s slate with a stack of $5.00 bills to assist in our efforts to recruit new members to vote at the convention. We learned later that the Ricci supporters had done the same thing for the incumbents.

The days before the May 2nd convention were spent on the phones soliciting new recruits to join the organization, attend the convention and cast their vote for the Celona slate. Their membership was paid courtesy of Sal’s funding and hundreds came to support each faction, but the majority of those in attendance were there only out of loyalty to Sal. In a hall full of young people that had little idea exactly why they were really there, the convention broke up in procedural chaos that saw the incumbents leave the hall in tears with the organization’s records in tow. While we contemplated continuing the convention without the opposition and forcing a vote, prudence dictated that we adjourn and reschedule the convention so there would be no accusations of the vote being invalid. A few weeks later, a new convention was held at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence. But it appeared the spirit of the incumbents had been broken and the anticipated fight never materialized. We won handily and took control of the R.I. Young Democrats. It was an exciting battle and a valuable lesson in practical politics. Most importantly for the North Providence faction, it was a big win for Sal.

 

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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.

 

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