Money that was once part of Stephen Saccoccia's
multimillion-dollar international money-laundering network will
soon be buying police cruisers, laptop computers, mobile command
stations and other equipment for several Rhode Island police departments.
U.S. Marshal John J. Leyden and U.S. Attorney Sheldon Whitehouse
yesterday divvied up more than $3.6 million in forfeited assets
and gave the money to the Rhode Island State Police and the Cranston,
Warwick and Providence police departments. Authorities are still
in search of more of the $136 million that Saccoccia was convicted
BARBARA POLICHETTI Journal-Bulletin Staff
March 11, 1998
that was once part of Stephen Saccoccia's multimillion-dollar
international money-laundering network will soon be buying police
cruisers, laptop computers, mobile command stations and other
equipment for several Rhode Island police departments. U.S. Marshal
John J. Leyden and U.S. Attorney Sheldon Whitehouse yesterday
divvied up more than $3.6 million in forfeited assets and gave
the money to the Rhode Island State Police and the Cranston, Warwick
and Providence police departments. Authorities are still in search
of more of the $136 million that Saccoccia was convicted of laundering.
The money is slowly trickling down to the
state and local police departments as Whitehouse's office, the
Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service
and other government agencies continue the long, painstaking process
of following paper and electronic trails that lead to caches of
money that were part of Saccoccia's operation.
The task involves federal and international
laws and dealings with England, Switzerland and Austria, according
to Whitehouse's office.
Thomas Connell, spokesman for the U.S. attorney,
said yesterday that right now it is not possible to add up how
much has been seized in cash and assets.
"It's very difficult to calculate," he said. "Some of it is assets that have to be liquidated, while other
'assets' are the subject of complex negotiations
between England, Switzerland, Austria and the United States."
In 1993, Saccoccia was sentenced to 660 years
in federal prison for laundering more than $136 million for Colombian
drug traffickers. Saccoccia, who operated out of a coin shop on
Park Avenue in Cranston, was also fined $15.8 million and ordered
to forfeit the $136.3 million he was accused of laundering.
Connell said that Saccoccia has not paid
anything toward the fine so far and that Whitehouse's office is
continuing to work with other federal agencies to try to find
as much of the $136 million as possible.
Whitehouse yesterday visited State Police
headquarters and the Cranston police station to hand out checks.
The departments that received money played
a role in the investigation that led to Saccoccia's arrest, he
State Police received approximately $2.5
million, Cranston received about $609,000, Providence got $463,000
and Warwick was given approximately $58,000.
State Police Supt. Edmond S. Culhane Jr.
said that it is satisfying to see money that was in the hands
of drug lords and money launderers end up buying police equipment.
"By coming back to us, it brings things full circle,"
Culhane said. "It is not only killing the poison ivy, it
is pulling it up by the roots. My only regret is that Colonel
Stone is not alive to see this." Culhane was referring to
the legendary Col. Walter Stone, head of the state police for
about three decades, who died in December.
Yesterday, Whitehouse said that some of the
money that was distributed to police departments came from a Swiss
bank account controlled by Guillermo Gaitan-Ortiz, a suspected
Colombian cocaine dealer.
There are no charges against Gaitan-Ortiz
at this time, he said.
Whitehouse credited Assistant U.S. Attorney
Michael Iannotti with tracking hundreds of computerized bank records
to find the link between Saccoccia and Gaitan-Ortiz.
At the Cranston police station, Whitehouse
followed up the distribution of checks with the promise that federal
officials will keep tracing every dollar they can and that local
police departments can expect more money in the future.
Whitehouse said court proceedings are under
way to have forfeited to the government the 82 bars of gold and
seven bags of gold pellets, worth about $2.1 million, that investigators
found buried last year in the Cranston backyard of Saccoccia's
Culhane said that he will use some of the
money his department received yesterday to buy laptop computers
for troopers, plus improved cars for the canine unit and troopers
who transport prisoners. For years, he said, the department has
only had one or two vehicles that can travel into the woods for
searches and rescues so he wants to buy more of those as well.
Also, Culhane said that the Saccoccia money
may allow him to buy digital cameras that would make it easier
for police photographs to be stored in computer databases.
In Cranston, the money will be used for cruisers,
unmarked cars, a mobile command vehicle and other equipment, according
to Chief Vincent McAteer.
Warwick Police Chief William DeFeo said he
plans to buy laptop computers for patrol officers and also to
put some of the money toward a digitized phone system.
Federal regulations stipulate that the forfeiture
money must be used to augment local law-enforcement budgets, and
not be substituted for local funds.
The police chiefs said that the work being
done by Whitehouse's office is unglamorous paper-chasing, but
the payoff is tremendous.
"All too often the credit goes to some
guy who kicks in a door," said Culhane.
Said McAteer as he shook Whitehouse's hand,
"We appreciate all your work, all your effort - and the money."