Some Charges Drop Against R.I. Mayor
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ A federal judge acquitted Mayor Vincent Cianci Jr. on Tuesday of five of 17 charges, ruling in midtrial that prosecutors failed to prove he had extorted bribes from tow truck operators and urged a witness to lie to the FBI.
U.S. District Court Judge Ernest Torres granted some defense motions to acquit Cianci and three co-defendants in the 29-count federal indictment, but allowed some key charges _ including racketeering _ to remain. One of the four _ businessman Edward Voccola _ was cleared of all charges in the case, known as Operation Plunder Dome.
The defense motions were brought Monday after the prosecution rested.
Voccola was acquitted of both federal racketeering charges against him.
The judge acquitted former mayoral aide Frank Corrente of three of 19 charges. He was found innocent of receiving a bribe to get a man a job on the police force and urging a city official to lie to the FBI about a suspicious lease with the city’s school department.
The fourth defendant, businessman Richard Autiello, did not have any of the seven charges against him dropped.
The trial, in its seventh week, continued with the defense phase on the remaining charges against Cianci, Corrente and Autiello.
Besides two racketeering charges, the judge allowed stand a series of charges that the mayor and his co-defendants extorted bribes for jobs, tax cuts, and deals.
During a trial that began in mid-April, federal prosecutors presented a colorful array of witnesses _ from convicted felons to salty tow truck operators to a woman who said she paid $5,000 to get her son a job on the police force.
They testified about bribes and kickbacks _ often in the form of campaign contributions.
Torres said although there is evidence that tow truck operators may have paid some $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions in the 1990s to Cianci’s campaign, Cianci would have benefited only indirectly.
``That in and of itself is not sufficient to establish his guilt,″ Torres said.
Torres also said prosecutors had failed to show that Cianci actually strong-armed a member of the city’s building board of review to lie to the FBI about allegations the mayor extorted a free lifetime membership to the prestigious University Club by blocking its building permits.
Torres also ruled that although it’s possible to infer that a $5,000 bribe a woman paid to Autiello to get her son a job on the police force eventually made its way to a police or city official, ``the evidence is insufficent that Mr. Corrente was that public official.″
Voccola, a convicted felon, was accused of paying bribes to lease his former auto body shop to the school department, netting him about $1 million over seven years.
Torres said ``there’s plenty of evidence Mr. Voccola conspired to, and in fact, paid a bribe″ in the school lease deal. But, Torres said, there’s no evidence Voccola was part of a broad, criminal enterprise at City Hall.
A tearful Voccola was asked by reporters outside the courthouse if he was shaken by the judge’s ruling. ``Shaken?″ he said. ``I feel good. ... Real good.″
``Eddie Voccola can now get on with his life at age 73,″ his lawyer, William Murphy said. ``There was a lot of evidence floating around but none of it was pinned on Mr. Voccola.″
With the defense phase now at hand, speculation has swirled about whether Cianci, known as a clever, quick-witted orator, will take the stand.
``I’d be shocked if Cianci testified,″ said David Zlotnick, a law professor at Roger Williams University. ``If he does, you can be sure that it will be over the objection of his attorney.″
Known by most in Providence as ``Buddy,″ the 61-year-old Cianci is the city’s smiling public face and the longest-serving mayor of any American city. He shakes countless hands every day, makes a point of meeting every out-of-town dignitary and often receives accolades for Providence’s renaissance.
Cianci, a former state prosecutor, was first elected mayor in 1974 as a Republican. He was re-elected in 1978 and in 1982, when he switched to independent. Two years later, he was forced to leave office after pleading no contest to felony assault on a man he believed was having an affair with his estranged wife. He received a suspended sentence and was re-elected in 1990.