A June 25 article on the conviction of Providence Mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr. on a charge of racketeering conspiracy misstated the year that he was reelected after resigning the mayoralty in 1984 because of an assault conviction in an unrelated case. He was reelected in 1990. He is also not the nation's longest-serving mayor, as the article stated. (Published 6/26/02)
Vincent "Buddy" A. Cianci Jr. of Providence, R.I., the longest-serving and one of the most brazenly flamboyant active mayors in the country, was found guilty today by a federal jury of conspiring to run a criminal enterprise from City Hall.
Cianci, 61, was convicted on the charge of racketeering conspiracy, the most serious of a dozen federal charges against him. He was acquitted of the 11 other charges, including racketeering, which required jurors to find him guilty of two or more specific illegal acts. After more than 60 hours of deliberations, jurors found Cianci not guilty of mail fraud or bribery and extortion in relation to allegations that he tried to extort a free membership from an elite Providence club by blocking its renovation plans.
Racketeering conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and/or $250,000 in fines. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 6.
Two co-defendants, Frank E. Corrente, the mayor's former top aide, and tow truck operator Richard Autiello, also were found guilty of racketeering conspiracy. Corrente was convicted on six of 16 counts, including racketeering, while Autiello was convicted on three of seven charges.
"This is a big day for Rhode Island," said Darrell West, a Brown University political science professor and longtime Cianci observer. "We've been calling him the Teflon mayor, but today the Teflon melted."
Cianci, who did not testify during the seven-week trial, maintained a stoic face as the guilty verdict was delivered shortly after noon. "I feel fine," he told the Associated Press as he left the courtroom with his attorney.
Later, waving his hand and wearing a subdued smile, the usually loquacious mayor remained quiet as he walked to a waiting car and his supporters cheered.
Prosecutors declined to comment, citing a judge's gag order and the start today of a separate federal bribery trial against Cianci's chief of staff.
Cianci's immediate plans were not clear. But with two days left for mayoral candidates to file papers, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Almond, an outspoken critic of Cianci's, encouraged him to step down.
The Providence city charter permits Cianci to remain in office until all appeals are exhausted, but the state constitution says that the mayor should leave office upon conviction. Cianci had resigned as mayor in 1984 after receiving a suspended sentence for assaulting his estranged wife's lover. He was reelected in 1991 and has served six terms.
"We have witnessed three decades of corruption in Providence. Enough is enough," Almond said in a prepared statement.
Before a live television audience Monday evening, Cianci proclaimed the jury's decision a victory and vowed to fight the one conviction until all his legal options have been exhausted. He also brushed aside calls to resign, saying he still planned to run for reelection this November.
Rhode Island in recent decades has seen the downfall of two state Supreme Court chief justices, a Superior Court judge, a Pawtucket mayor and his top aides, and a former governor. A probe of Cianci's administrations in the 1980s resulted in the conviction of nearly two dozen city employees on charges of extortion and fraud.
Today's verdicts represent the culmination of a four-year FBI corruption investigation codenamed Operation Plunder Dome. Aided by a local businessman who went undercover to tape city officials arranging bribes, prosecutors depicted a pattern of corruption that touched on everything from real estate taxes to city jobs and Cianci's campaign organization.
"The evidence shows that the price of admission was often $5,000," Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard W. Rose said in closing arguments last week. "Want a job? Five thousand. Want to be on the [city's official] tow list? Five thousand. Want to grease the chairman of the tax board? Five thousand. It was a city for sale, where anything could be had for a price."
Cianci's attorney, Richard Egbert, credited his client with reversing the city's declining fortunes. He was "the leader, the backbone, the visionary," Egbert said, adding that any evidence connecting Cianci to bribery was based on the words of two convicted tax officials who are "bums," "thieves" and "liars."
Today, the prospect of Providence without "Buddy" seemed unthinkable to many in the capital city, but inevitable.
"There are certainly those in Providence who feel terrible about it," said Robert P. Arruda, chairman of Operation Clean Government, a citizens watchdog group. "But for this city to move forward . . . we need to get past a corrupt administration."
He remembered when the U.S. attorney's office unveiled its undercover probe in April 1999 with the arrest of two city tax officials. "You're not going to find any stains on this jacket," the mayor had said.
Today Arruda said, "I would venture to say that [racketeering conspiracy] is one big stain."