Lawyer sentenced for role in bribery

Handled payoffs to councilmen in N. Providence

Robert S. Ciresi’s hands shook as he read an apologetic statement in court. He plans to appeal his conviction. Robert S. Ciresi’s hands shook as he read an apologetic statement in court. He plans to appeal his conviction.
By Laura Crimaldi
Associated Press / August 4, 2011

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PROVIDENCE - An attorney tearfully apologized yesterday before being sentenced to five years and three months in prison for his role in facilitating bribes for three former North Providence town councilmen.

“Your honor, I’m deeply sorry,’’ said Robert S. Ciresi, 78, whose hands shook as he read prepared remarks in US District Court in Providence and extended a special apology to his family.

“I’m sorry for the shame and the stress and the hurt that I’ve put them through,’’ he said. “They don’t deserve this.’’

Chief Judge Mary Lisi told Ciresi that his role skulking around a parking lot at night to be a bagman in a bribery scheme “reeks of corruption.’’

“Sadly, Mr. Ciresi, I’m going to sentence you to prison today; that’s a choice you made when you decided to help with the bribes instead of telling them to stop,’’ said Lisi, who recalled Ciresi’s status as a role model when she was a young lawyer.

A jury convicted Ciresi in April of conspiracy, bribery, and extortion. The sentencing guidelines called for him to spend between five years and three months to 6 1/2 years in prison.

Ciresi must surrender on Aug. 31. He will also lose his law license, said his attorney, John F. Cicilline.

US Attorney Peter F. Neronha said the sentence was appropriate.

“I think it sends the right signal,’’ he said.

Cicilline said Ciresi will appeal his conviction.

“I feel very strongly about the appeal,’’ Cicilline said. He added that he plans to appeal Lisi’s decision to deny Ciresi bail while his case moves through the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston.

Cicilline had sought home confinement for his client, citing his age, 52 years of law experience, his public service record, and “overall good character.’’ Cicilline also said Ciresi’s role in the scheme was minor and that he suffers from high blood pressure, gout, and acid reflux.

Federal prosecutors wanted Ciresi to serve eight years in prison, saying in court filings that he “has not shown one iota of acceptance of responsibility for his criminal conduct, not an ounce of remorse or regret.’’

In the first bribe, a supermarket developer paid $25,000 to councilmen John Zambarano, Joseph Burchfield, and Raymond Douglas III for votes to approve a zoning change needed for the project to go forward.

Ciresi, who represented the developer, delivered the bribe to Zambarano in February 2009 at a nighttime meeting in the parking lot of an Italian restaurant in Cranston, which was observed by the FBI, prosecutors said.

Ciresi was accused of putting Zambarano and the others in touch with the middleman in the second bribe in early 2010. Through that middleman, prosecutors said, the councilmen demanded a $75,000 bribe from another developer who needed a zoning change to convert a defunct mill into housing. The developer had paid only $21,000 by the time the councilmen were arrested.

The developers have not been charged.

Zambarano was sentenced in May to just under six years in prison. Burchfield got five years and four months, and Douglas received 6 1/2 years.