Providence Journal-Bulletin

The Diprete Case: A History Of Public Malfeasance From Almeida to Zanni, Officials Sully State's Reputation

By Scott MacKAY Journal State House Bureau
Published 12-12-1998

PROVIDENCE --- In his salad days, Edward D. DiPrete had an audience at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II, spent time with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush and hobnobbed with the glitterati as a guest at publisher Malcolm Forbes's $2-million Moroccan birthday bash in 1989. With his guilty plea in Superior Court yesterday, DiPrete became just another in a long line of Rhode Island political officials whose reputations, jobs, or freedom were sacrificed on the altar of official or personal corruption.

DiPrete was the first Rhode Island governor to plead guilty to a felony in criminal court. But there have been all too many judges and other elected or appointed officials who have sullied the state in Rhode Island's long history of public malfeasance. From Charles Brayton, the legendary turn-of-the-century State House political boss, through DiPrete, political figures in this state have never been shy about trading favors for cold cash or other considerations.

Two state Supreme Court chief justices - Joseph A. Bevilacqua, in 1987, and Thomas F. Fay, in 1993 - resigned under a cloud of scandal. Bevilacqua quit under threat of General Assembly impeachment for associating with criminals. Fay, too, stepped down in the face of impeachment proceedings and later pleaded guilty in Superior Court to three counts of violating state ethics laws, a felony count of converting state money to personal use and a felony count of obstruction of justice.

In 1992, Superior Court Judge Antonio S. Almeida pleaded guilty to soliciting and accepting $45,100 in bribes from lawyer Thomas C. Hutton in exchange for favorable rulings or court appointments. He was given a six-year prison sentence and home confinement.

In 1991, then-Pawtucket Mayor Brian J. Sarault pleaded guilty to extortion and racketeering charges, admitting that he had run a kickback and extortion ring from his City Hall office. Prosecutors estimated that Sarault extorted about $1 million from businesses seeking city contracts. He received a 5 1/2 -year federal prison sentence. Eight other members of Sarault's administration and businessmen were convicted of various offenses - ranging from payment of bribes to obtain construction contracts on jobs at Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium to fixing a drunken-driving case.

Cranston was the scene in the early 1990s of a major corruption investigation. It ensnared Mayor Michael A. Traficante and several members of his administration. Traficante pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges relating to improper campaign-finance reporting and was sentenced to one year' s probation.

Raymond J. Azar, once Cranston's director of public works, pleaded guilty in 1993 to one count of racketeering or orchestrating a public works kickback scheme from his City Hall office that netted him $350, 000 in bribes from contractors. He was sentenced to a five-year sentence, with work release.

Michael W. Piccoli, former chairman of the state Solid Waste Management Corporation, pleaded guilty in 1992 to obtaining money under false pretenses. He was paroled after one year of a three-year work-release sentence.

In Providence, Gary Garafano, former deputy public works director, was convicted by a federal grand jury in 1993 of extortion. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in federal prison.

Benjamin R. Zanni, former Johnston town councilman, pleaded guilty in 1994 to a federal extortion charge. He was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison and fined $20,000.

In a 1984 case that he now jokes about on Don Imus's radio program and at other venues, Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. was forced out of office after pleading no contest to a felony stemming from his assault on his ex-wife's lover. Cianci was given probation and regained City Hall in a successful 1990 campaign for mayor. He sometimes refers to his time away from the mayoralty as his "sabbatical."

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CAPTION: BRIAN J. SARAULT: Pawtucket mayor Pleaded guilty to extortion and racketeering charges

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CAPTION: ANTONIO S. ALMEIDA: Superior Court judge Pleaded guilty to soliciting and accepting $45,100

in bribes

* * *

CAPTION: JOSEPH A. BEVILACQUA: R.I. Supreme Court chief justice Quit under threat of impeachment for

associating with criminals

* * *

CAPTION: VINCENT A. CIANCI JR.: Providence mayor Pleaded no contest to a felony after assaulting

ex-wife's lover

* * *

CAPTION: THOMAS F. FAY: R.I. Supreme Court chief justice Pleaded guilty to ethics violations,

converting state money to personal use and obstruction of justice

Copyright © 1998 The Providence Journal Company

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