Providence Mayor Near Taint of Scandal Probe
A corruption scandal at City Hall has moved closer than ever to Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. with the indictment of his former top aide on charges of arranging bribes.
So far, four city officials and two lawyers have been convicted in the federal investigation, which became public 15 months ago. Cianci has not been charged and has denied any knowledge of corruption.
Last week, Frank E. Corrente became the highest-ranking city official charged. He was accused of arranging bribes in connection with city leases and contracts.
More important: Corrente’s indictment contains the first direct allegations that tainted money went to Cianci.
“Cianci has always been seen as a hands-on mayor who knows everything about what is going on in City Hall,” said Darrell West, a Brown University political science professor. “Now his defense is that he didn’t know.”
On Friday, a federal judge rebuked Cianci during the sentencing of two city tax officials who accepted bribes for tax reductions.
The judge sentenced former tax board Chairman Joseph Pannone to five years in prison and former Deputy Tax Assessor Rosemary Glancy to two years and nine months, both for multiple counts of conspiracy, attempted extortion and mail fraud. Pannone still faces more charges related to the indictment of Corrente.
“In the mayor’s two administrations, there has been more corruption than in the history of the state,” U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux said at Pannone’s sentencing. “There is a feeling in the city of Providence that corruption is tolerated.”
Cianci countered: “It was inappropriate, it was unfounded and it was unfortunate that a sitting judge would level those charges against me without any evidence or hearing.
“I deny any wrongdoing or any part in any of those situations that he was sentencing defendants on today.”
Cianci’s second administration has witnessed Providence’s rebirth as a center for business, tourism and the arts, and residents seem to believe in him. A Brown University poll released last month found that 67% thought Cianci was doing a good or excellent job, versus 77% last year.
Corrente resigned last July from his posts as supervisor of all city departments and treasurer of the mayor’s reelection committee. He is accused of arranging bribes from a city contractor, Anthony Freitas, who was working undercover for the government.
According to the indictment, Freitas said he heard Pannone, the former city tax board chairman, claim that Corrente and Cianci received bribes from a property owner who was trying to win city business.
Corrente’s lawyer, Howard Gutman, said, “We expect that a jury in Providence will find that Frank Corrente is a good and honest man and will acquit him.”
Cianci, 59, has been in office a total of 19 years. During his first administration, in the 1980s, 30 city workers and contractors were indicted on charges including extortion and fraud, and 22 eventually were convicted. Cianci denied knowing about the corruption.
In 1984, Cianci received a five-year suspended sentence for assaulting a man he suspected of having an affair with his wife. He was forced from office but was reelected in 1990.
Corrente’s indictment brings the investigation closer to the mayor than many thought would happen, said City Council President John Lombardi.
“It is in the mayor’s office with this most recent indictment,” he said. “Let the chips fall where they may.”