Joseph A. Bevilacqua, whose friendships with reputed mobsters tarnished and finally ended his career as Rhode Island's top legislator and top judge, died Wednesday. He was 70.
Bevilacqua died at Brigham and Women's Hospital here. He had been hospitalized several times during the last few months in Providence, most recently in early May for a heart attack. He was taken to Brigham and Women's on May 30.
Bevilacqua's past as a lawyer whose clients and friends included crime figures dogged him throughout 31 years in public office as legislator, House Speaker and chief justice.
State's Top Judge
When he gave up his law practice and the powerful speakership of the Rhode Island House in 1976 to become the state's top judge, Bevilacqua promised to set aside "old friendships and causes."
His apparent failure to do so--through alleged associations with underworld figures and a growing list of other possible judicial improprieties--brought a negotiated public censure in June, 1985.
It also triggered an investigation by the Legislature that brought Bevilacqua's resignation in May, 1986.
There were allegations that Bevilacqua had harbored a fugitive from a 1963 department store robbery and accepted $2,000 of the loot from him. The fugitive, Robert Northrop, later recanted his story.
Then-Atty. Gen. Julius Michaelson investigated the matter in 1977 but concluded that there was "no prosecutable case."
About the same time, a letter surfaced in which Bevilacqua told the state Parole Board in 1973 that Raymond L. S. Patriarca, the late New England organized-crime boss, was "a person of integrity and, in my opinion, good moral character."
Panel Took No Action
The Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline took no action after it investigated the letter and Bevilacqua's officiating at the wedding of Patriarca's chauffeur six months after becoming chief justice. The chauffeur, Joseph A. Badway, was under indictment for fraud at the time.
The series of events that finally brought Bevilacqua down began at the end of 1984, with a Providence Journal-Bulletin story alleging that state police and the newspaper's reporters had observed Bevilacqua repeatedly visiting the homes of underworld figures.
The state police subsequently alleged that Bevilacqua had also visited a Smithfield, R.I., motel, owned by men linked to gambling and drugs, for trysts with his secretary and another woman to whom he was not married.
The judicial commission launched a new investigation, hiring former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg as special counsel, and censured Bevilacqua for associating with criminals. Bevilacqua agreed to take an unpaid four-month leave of absence in 1985.
When the General Assembly convened the next year, it launched impeachment proceedings. Two weeks after the House Judiciary Committee began public hearings on the matter, Bevilacqua resigned.