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Fox Scandal: First Time State House Raided in RI History

Saturday, March 22, 2014

 

It was a dark day in Rhode Island's history as the State House was raided by federal and state law enforcement officials for the very first time.

On Friday, a contingent of dozens of State Police officers, as well as Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service officers swept into the iconic Rhode Island Capitol to raid files of the Speaker of the House - Gordon Fox.

First State House Raid

"I've been around 27 years. We've arrested people at the State House, but I can't remember something like this before," said Rhode Island State Police Colonel Steve O’Donnell.

State Librarian Tom Evans, who has been working at the State House for 26 years, affirmed, “State policemen have only been in the State House to interview for investigations and such in the past, not to raid an office.”

The state police have only ever been called to the State House on one occasion, which was during the Bloodless Revolution on New Year’s Day of 1935. In what remains one of the most significant power transfers in history, Governor Theodore Francis Green led the Democratic Party in seizing the Senate from Republicans. Green called in 20 state troopers to guard the doors of the Senate chamber so that no Republicans would be able to escape and leave the Democrats with a quorum – which is the minimum number of members in a deliberative assembly necessary to conduct business.

According to Dr. Patrick Conley, an expert on Rhode Island history, "There's no record of the state - or certainly the federal - authorities invading the State House."

GOP, Dems Battled in Past

Back in the 1920's there was the use of State Police in the State House during a political battle between Republicans and Democrats.

“The irony of it all is that the Republicans used force to keep the Democrats in check only about ten years before then,” said Dr. Conley, the Historian Laureate of Rhode Island. Republicans dropped a bromine gas bomb in the middle of a Democratic filibuster on June 19, 1924. No state police department existed at this point, so Lieutenant Governor Felix Toupin involved the Attorney General to order an issue of arrest for the Republicans who refused to show up and resume session after the gas had cleared.

In the events leading up to June 19, 1924, Toupin had not left the rostrum for 48 consecutive hours, having had food brought to him from restaurants and a device installed near his seat so that he could answer calls without ever moving from his chair.

The political battle of the 1920's and 1930'a stands in stark contrast to the investigation of political corruption on 2014 demonstrated this week by federal investigators.  "I'm not going to offer any comment at all, but to confirm the obvious, that there is a federal and state law enforcement presence at the State House in an ongoing law enforcement matter," said Jim Martin with the US Attorney's Office in Providence.

The raid of Speaker Fox office seems to set a new standard for both federal and state law enforcement reacting to Rhode Island political corruption.

 

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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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. 

The details are still emerging, but the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Rhode Island has confirmed the IRS is involved in an ongoing investigation in Rhode Island.

 
 

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