Third ex-N. Providence councilman sentenced in bribery scheme

By Ian MacDougall
Associated Press / May 18, 2011

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PROVIDENCE — A federal judge sentenced a former North Providence town councilman yesterday to nearly six years in prison after he and two other former councilmen pleaded guilty to taking part in a bribery scheme.

John Zambarano and the other former councilmen — Joseph Burchfield and Raymond Douglas III — admitted earlier this year to soliciting bribes from local businessmen in exchange for favorable votes on zoning and licensing changes. Zambarano has also pleaded guilty to a separate insurance fraud scheme.

On Monday, Burchfield was sentenced to five years and four months in prison, while Douglas received 6 1/2 years. Douglas, who also pleaded guilty to collecting illegal gambling debts by extortion, and Zambarano received the maximum prison terms recommended by federal sentencing guidelines.

“Greed is never good. It is particularly offensive when it manifests itself in those who hold the public trust,’’ Rhode Island US Attorney Peter F. Neronha said after the sentencing.

Neronha said his office, the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies were continuing their investigation into corruption related to the scheme. He declined to give specifics.

US District Court Chief Judge Mary Lisi said yesterday that the message she intended the sentences to send was that “if you are a government official and you use the authority of your office to line your pockets and to engage in corrupt behavior, you lose a lot. . . . You will lose your liberty.’’

Zambarano’s lawyer, Thomas Briody, had asked Lisi to balance a message of deterrence with “some small measure of compassion.’’ Zambarano had suffered physical and mental health problems since his arrest, he said. Briody requested a sentence of five years and four months in prison — the same sentence given Burchfield.

After the sentencing, Briody called the punishment “very, very severe.’’

Lisi also ordered Zambarano to pay $12,500 in fines and sentenced him to three years of supervised release with mental health treatment.

The bribery scheme orchestrated by Burchfield, Douglas, and Zambarano netted $46,000 before they were arrested. The money came from two developers — one building a supermarket, the other hoping to convert a defunct mill into housing. The developers were never charged.

A fourth councilman, Paul Caranci, supplied the crucial fourth vote on the seven-person North Providence town council. But prosecutors say he was cooperating from the outset with the FBI, whose agents were able to collect significant amounts of audio and other surveillance.

Edward Imondi, 74, a developer who pleaded guilty to charges that he acted as a middleman for the mill bribe, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison Monday.

Another man accused of acting as a middleman, lawyer Robert Ciresi, was convicted of the charge in a jury trial in April.

In the insurance fraud case, prosecutors say Zambarano conspired with local radio host Lori Sergiacomi, known on the air as Tonya Cruise; insurance adjuster Vincent DiPaolo; and former Town Council president Robert Ricci to damage Sergiacomi’s home and submit bogus insurance claims, with a payout totaling just over $40,000.

Ricci has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors and is expected to plead guilty on June 1. Sergiacomi and DiPaolo have pleaded not guilty.