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Notorious R.I. Embezzler Up for Parole

June 20, 2002

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Joseph Mollicone, Rhode Island’s poster child for white-collar crime, was granted his bid for freedom.

After serving 10 years of a 30-year sentence for embezzling millions of dollars from the Heritage Loan and Investment Co. he headed, the state Parole Board agreed Thursday to release him, citing his expressions of remorse and insight into his crimes.

When he is released in July, Mollicone will live with relatives and work as a salesman at a local furniture store for about minimum wage.

That’s a far cry from his days a prominent banker, when he lived the high life, taking friends on expensive junkets to the most renowned golf courses in the country and working from behind a leather-topped mahogany desk.

Then, in 1990, the veneer was stripped when bank examiners discovered he had embezzled $12 million, a theft that is widely seen as sending the state’s banking industry into a tailspin.

He was vilified for his role in the state’s worst banking crisis since the Great Depression _ a man so apparently consumed by greed that he stole from his own relatives and from countless retirees who had put their nest eggs in his bank.

``He was viewed as the primary villain in what was a very sad chapter in the state’s history,″ said former Attorney General Jeffrey Pine, whose office prosecuted Mollicone. ``He became the personification of it.″

After the theft was discovered, Mollicone went on the lam, spending 17 months in Utah before giving himself up and returning to Rhode Island in 1992.

He was convicted the following year on 26 counts of embezzlement, conspiracy and violation of banking laws. He was sentenced to serve 30 years in prison and ordered to pay back what he stole, plus fines.

Few Rhode Islanders stepped forward to oppose his possible release. The case was the talk of local radio shows this week as hosts and their listeners weighed in on one of the state’s most notorious crimes.

``Rhode Islanders have always been very generous to its rogues,″ former Attorney General Arlene Violet said. ``We forgive a lot in this state.″

Mollicone spun a web of fake loans, and used checks written to about 100 of his businesses, as well as a flurry of documents, to try to conceal the thefts.

When examiners for the Rhode Island Share and Deposit Indemnity Corp., the insurer for Heritage and dozens of other institutions, showed up to look over the bank’s books, they found that many of the records to back up its transactions didn’t exist.

Mollicone wrote out bogus loans in the names of co-workers, friends, his father-in-law and his godfather. When Heritage began to fail, the bank’s longtime, faithful customers flocked to withdraw their money _ only to find out that the fake loans blocked access to their accounts.

In the end, Mollicone’s family lost their home, his wife filed for bankruptcy and divorced him, and two business partners were left with millions of dollars in debt.

The state borrowed $350 million to reimburse depositors who otherwise might have lost their life’s savings.

As a condition of his release, Mollicone must come up with a restitution plan and put together a plan to speak to students, especially those looking to enter the business world, to warn them about crime.

The Parole Board, which met behind closed doors to consider his request, voted unanimously to release him. His lawyer said that when the decision was issued, Mollicone asked for it to be read out loud again to make sure he had heard it correctly.

He now feels ``utter joy″ at the prospect of freedom, said his lawyer, Lise Gescheidt.

Mollicone has been a model inmate and hasn’t been disciplined once, said Al Bucci, spokesman for the state’s prison agency.

He’s worked a variety of prison jobs, including as a clerk. Most recently, he’s been a porter, cleaning his cellblock’s common living area and showers for up to $3 a day.

Shortly after news broke earlier this month that Mollicone was up for parole, state officials set aside a room for a special ``victims″ hearing. But the hearing was canceled after nobody showed up and only one person called.

Parole Board Chairwoman Lisa Holley has said she received little opposition to granting parole to Mollicone. Of the 35 messages left at the office on Wednesday, only two were opposed, she said.

Holley was a police officer in Warwick at the time, and ``people were just marching down Jefferson Boulevard″ trying to reclaim their money in a frenzied atmosphere that prevailed at the time.

``I guess over the years, a lot of that has diminished,″ she said.

Even Mollicone’s own attorney is surprised at how little opposition was mounted against Mollicone’s release.

``He was the scapegoat for every financial evil in this state,″ Gescheidt told The Associated Press. ``It shows how high you can go, and how far you can fall.″

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