Wired: 1976 to 1979, a Book by Paul F. Caranci

Monday, March 20, 2017
Paul F. Caranci, Author

Each week, GoLocalProv will publish a chapter of the book Wired: The Shocking True Story of Political Corruption and the FBI Informant Who Risked Everything to Expose It, by Paul Caranci. 

The book details how Caranci gambled his thirty-year political career, his reputation, and his family’s safety in his quest to restore good, honest government to a community that needed it most by going undercover with the FBI for 17 months to exposed corruption. 

Buy the book by CLICKING HERE

 

1976

“THE NIGHT OF THE LONG KNIVES”

THE DEMOCRAT TOWN COMMITTEE

1976 was a big year in both Rhode Island and North Providence politics. Keven McKenna was making another run for statewide office. Though he expressed interest in running for Lt. Governor, Sal promised his support if Keven would run for Attorney General instead. It was not that Sal wanted to help Kevin McKenna get elected so much that he didn’t want McKenna to challenge his good friend Lt. Governor Tom DiLuglio. 

Margie agreed to manage Keven’s campaign in North Providence allowing me an opportunity to focus my attention on the local races. I volunteered as the campaign manager for John Rhude’s re-election to the Council District 1 seat and worked on Sal’s re-election campaign for mayor.

Sal was a most conscientious worker but sometimes worked to exhaustion. He would subsequently check into Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in the North Providence village of Fruit Hill for a few days of rest and relaxation. During the hospitalization of 1976 however Mancini was not recovering from exhaustion, rather he was recuperating from a serious heart attack. It was during his recuperation period that the 

North Providence Democrat Town Committee met to endorse local candidates. It was widely thought in local circles that Mancini’s re-election as party chairman was a virtual certainty. Unbeknownst to us, however, political treachery would lead us in a different direction. In a meeting that is referred to in North Providence folklore as “the night of the long knives,” a reference to the September 10, 1931, Mafia murder of Salvatore Maranzano in the final shot of the Castellamerese War, John Ricci wrested control of the Committee and secured the endorsement. Ricci’s supporters claimed that the “takeover” had been planned for many months and that it was just an unfortunate coincidence that Sal’s condition rendered him unable to attend the meeting. The Mancini people spun it a little differently, criticizing the Ricci faction for taking advantage of Sal’s health condition by orchestrating the takeover. Frank Iafrate, a school committeeman and the artist who designed the now famous logo for the Quonset Point Sea Bees, designed a brilliant yet simple campaign strategy that utilized white cowboy hats and a slogan that referred to Sal and his candidates as “the Good Guys.” The spin and the campaign strategy worked. In a rather nasty campaign that led to charges and counter charges of sup-porters stealing the opponent’s signs and cutting phone wires to the campaign headquarters on election eve, Sal was a big primary winner. He also rolled over Republican challenger William “Bill” Dimitri in November’s General Election ensuring his control over North Providence for another four years.

Keven McKenna didn’t fare as well. Sal kept his word and supported McKenna’s campaign, but his support was weak at best. Of course John Rhude and all the other Mancini supporters, including John Celona, swept home with impressive victories buoyed on the Mancini coattails. In this year the Mancini Democrats also fielded an entire slate of 75 candidates for the Democrat Town Committee in an effort to ensure that there would never be a repeat of “the night of the long knives.” The Mancini faction took most of those positions and I was included on the list of successful candidates.

1977

TWO DREAMS FULFILLED

 

While 1977 was a relatively quiet year politically it was a year of incredible happiness and joy for me. I graduated Providence College, on May 26th, the day after my 22nd birthday. I had wanted to attend PC since I was in high school, maybe even earlier, and became the first member of my immediate family to earn a college degree. As proud as I was on the day I walked for my diploma, the joy was overshadowed just a couple of weeks later on June 11, 1977. That day dawned with the hint of rain which by noon had became torrential and the winds heavy, but not even the forces of mother-nature could put a damper on the day that I would marry my childhood sweetheart, Margie. Ours is an unusual love story. We met in our Centredale neighborhood when I was six and she just five. We became instant friends and grew up together. We hung out constantly and started “going steady” on September 20, 1970, just after she began her freshman year at North Providence High School. We dated all through high school and college eagerly awaiting graduation day so that we could be married. More than life partners, business partners and best friends, we are soulmates and have found enormous strength and comfort in each other throughout the years. God knows we needed it!

Abortion Becomes a Major Issue

Politically, the R.I. Young Democrats made news when on March 6th the group took up my proposal to urge a constitutional amendment limiting abortion. The measure, which cited “the deep conviction of young men and women that innocent life should never be destroyed,” seemed to be headed for sure defeat. Joseph Piccardi, a friend and fellow North Providence YD member, had managed to persuade other attendees that the body shouldn’t get involved in what he considered to be such a moral and private issue. Sensing that he was successfully arguing his point, I resorted to some parliamentary maneuvering allowed under the group’s by-laws by voting against the measure so that I could then bring the matter up for reconsideration after a short recess that would provide an opportunity to lobby the support of some members. The strategy worked and the measure passed. The headline of an article in the Evening Bulletin on March 7, 1977 read, “Abortion Amendment Supported.” The story noted my parliamentary maneuver as critical to the success of the proposal. It also caught the attention of State Representative William “Bill” McKenna, a strong pro-life voice in the General Assembly. Representative McKenna called me and asked if I would be willing to testify in support of his pro-life legislation. Appearing before the Health, Education & Welfare Committee, I expressed the support of the Rhode Island Young Democrats which, thanks to the recent convention, now had a membership of over 1,000 Rhode Island youth. The numbers, if not my testimony, certainly raised some eyebrows. While the legislation did not pass the House that year, the entire episode clearly helped raise awareness of the importance of the sanctity of life as a political issue.

 

1978

THE FOSSA - MANCINI SPLIT

A TURNING POINT

With no elected Republicans left to battle in North Providence, and the Ricci faction soundly defeated two years earlier, the Mancini Democrats turned on themselves once again in 1978. This time it was G. Richard “Dick” Fossa who had personal and political differences with Robert Ciresi, Sal’s Town Solicitor. While one of the bones of contention was Ciresi’s ownership of an ice skating rink destined for tax sale, I’m sure there were other issues of which we were never told that played a significant role in the feud. 

With regard to the ice rink issue, Sal refused to take any action in support of Fossa’s contention that Ciresi’s role in the ice rink was hurting the Town and Fossa took umbrage. Unlike the Ricci/Mancini split that was short-lived, this fight would tear the party apart and cause a split, the effect of which would reverberate until Sal’s death in 1994 and beyond.

It was clear to me and my two closest friends and political allies, Frank Anzeveno and Doc Corvese, that Sal expected us to remain loyal to him throughout the party split. There was no mayoral election in 1978 and Dick wasn’t running against Sal, but Sal knew that would change in 1980 if Dick were to win re-election to his council-at-large seat. The question of loyalty, however, was complicated by the fact that Dick was now our friend too. It was Sal, after all, who introduced us saying, “This is Dick Fossa. He’s with me and you’re with him.” And so we were. But now, some two years later, Dick was more than a politician. We considered him a friend that accepted and mentored us just as Sal had. We didn’t want to choose sides, especially since the two were not running against each other.

That summer the Town Committee met to endorse candidates for local office. All of Sal’s candidates received the endorsement including, much to our surprise, Dick Fossa for council-at-large. It didn’t take long, however, to realize Sal’s Machiavellian maneuver. He had long espoused the opinion that the way to get rid of someone was to endorse him and then work against him; a variation of the Biblical proverb that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Sal managed to find an Independent candidate, a contractor by the name of Joseph DeAngelis, to oppose Dick in the general election. DeAngelis was in the construction industry and although an Independent, Sal and all his other Council and school committee loyalists openly supported him. Anzeveno, Corvese and I were incensed both at the revolting political maneuvering against our friend and at the notion that Sal, the Chairman of the Democrat Party, would endorse a Democrat and then openly oppose him in favor of an Independent. The North Providence Young Democrats, which I chaired due to John Celona’s resignation upon his election as the R.I. Young Democrat President, withdrew their earlier endorsements of three Council members loyal to Sal in their support of the Independent candidate. Those candidates were John Rhude – District 1, John Celona – District 2 and Ann McQueeney – District 3. In a press release that caused considerable turmoil, the Young Democrats said,

“We feel that helping a non-Democrat represents the height of hypocrisy because most of the Democratic candidates, as members of the North Providence Town Committee, had ample opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with any of the party’s choices.” John Celona countered, “I am supporting DeAngelis largely because Fossa has let his personal ill-feelings toward certain people interfere with the operations of the town.”

That year I was also working as the Volunteer Coordinator in Frank Darigan’s second campaign for Mayor of Providence. It was a rematch of his run against Vincent “Buddy” Cianci four years earlier. My job was to open the Westminster Street headquarters in Downtown Providence and assign work to volunteers that ventured in throughout the day. I was manning my desk in the headquarters when the phone rang. “Darigan for Mayor Headquarters,” I answered. “I want to see you Corvese and Anzeveno in my office right away,” the voice of Sal Mancini boomed from the other end. “I want to bury all three of you together. Be here in ½ hour.” Not really the call I expected nor wanted on this Monday morning, but I dutifully called Frank and Doc and gave them the news.

We met and drove together to Town Hall. Sal kept us waiting for what seemed like hours before finally sending his assistant, Cheryl Bozzi, to tell us that he did not have time to meet with us that day. We rescheduled a meeting and eventually had the discussion with Sal that none of us particularly wanted to have. Once inside his office, Sal made it clear that we couldn’t support both Dick and him. We had to choose, he told us. We explained that we could support both until the day when they might actually oppose each other. Then we would choose. Sal would have no part of it. “You’re either with me or against me,” he said. We told him we would let him know and left for Dick’s house. Fossa was quite pragmatic in response to the news. He suggested that since we were supporters of Sal longer, he would understand if we remained loyal to Sal. “Do what you have to do,” he said. 

The drive back to Sal’s office was a time of deep consternation. We wondered aloud how we could oppose someone who was respecting our friendship by standing by us regardless of our position. The answer was simple. We couldn’t! Once back at Town Hall we told Sal that we didn’t want to have to make this choice, but if he forced our hand, then we would have to side with Fossa. “Then as long as I’m alive you’ll never see the inside of this office again,” Sal said as he showed us out. He was right!

In addition to the split with Sal, I think it was parting political ways with Celona two years earlier bothered Doc the most. They started together in politics and had been very close politically in the eight years since. For me, however, it was leaving the campaign of John Rhude that was of greatest concern. John was one of those genuinely nice guys and was a good councilman despite his unwillingness to part ways with Sal on this issue. I didn’t want to walk away without at least facing him to explain our grievance. The meeting was cordial, but we did not part on what would be considered overly friendly terms. John Rhude had provided a part time job for me during a couple of my college years. It was a labor-intensive position “slitting metal” at Metaloy, a Division of the New England Brass Company in Barrington. It paid slightly more than minimum wage, but despite the laborious nature of the job and the low wages, I was grateful for the position. The job opportunity then, coupled with the fact that John’s daughter Lynn was a member of my wedding party, made this political split most distasteful, but there was a principle involved that, to my thinking, also made it necessary.

 

1979

ANYBODY BUT SAL

 

Dick Fossa won the election handily over Joe DeAngelis and in January 1979 persevered in a 4-3 vote to win the Council presidency. What happened next would change my life and represent the second time in three years that I would pay a high price for standing on principle.

After each election cycle the North Providence Democrat Town Committee reorganizes by electing a new slate of officers. Sal Mancini, who regained the power of the Chairmanship in 1977 following John Ricci’s brief reign, was once again in firm control of the committee. He was unopposed in his reelection bid and Bob Ciresi, the Party Secretary, moved that one ballot be cast for Sal’s reelection. Dick Fossa, Doc Corvese, Frank Anzeveno and I stood one at a time to cast a dissenting vote against him. While viewed as a very foolish and naïve political move by most observers, we felt that standing on principal was more important than the political ramifications of the act. Regardless of the fact that he was unopposed, we believed that someone who voted to provide a unanimous endorsement of the Democrat Party to a candidate and then openly opposed that candidate in favor of an Independent candidate that Sal himself had recruited, should not continue to lead the local Democrat Party. No one else seemed to be sympathetic to our position or philosophical statement, but we felt the point had to be made.

From a political point of view, we had just sealed our fate with Sal. Though he was known to quickly “marry” his political opposition, there was no way that he could ever support us again. In fact, it became his personal mission to make our lives politically and personally difficult from that time forward. 

It began with his refusal to allow any of us to become registration agents in the special election for the District 36 State Senate seat. Longtime Senator Joseph DiStefano resigned his seat to accept a position as Chairman of the R.I. Board of Elections, the body that is responsible for the oversight of all elections in the State. The part-time position paid handsomely and was considered one of the more premium political patronage jobs in Rhode Island. Anzeveno, Corvese and I supported Ralph Campagnone, Senator DiStefano’s handpicked successor. High School teacher Anthony Marciano and newly elected Representative Vincent Mesolella were also candidates in the race. The North Providence Young Democrats, now under the leadership of my successor, Frank Anzeveno, endorsed Campagnone. Mancini quietly threw his support to Mesolella but it was Marciano who would prevail in the April 30th showdown in a race that would be decided by only 13 votes. 

Running against John Rhude but Taking on Sal

Throughout this entire time I had planned to run against John Rhude for a Town Council seat and had been asking others for their support. While most of the elected officials were courteous, they would not commit to me and it became clear that Sal was heavily involved in an effort to ensure that I would not be elected. On March 12th he told my friend Frederic “Fred” Marzilli that after my vote against him for Chairman, he had no choice but to “crush” me, or others would think him weak. 

Despite the hardships caused by Sal, 1979 was shaping up to be a good year for me. I was President of the North Providence Young Democrats, an alternate member of the North Providence Zoning Board, an advisor in Ralph Campagnone’s Senate campaign, and a candidate for Town Council gaining support as each day progressed - an interesting political resume for someone not quite 24 years of age. Unfortunately events would take a marked turn for the worse. 

In North Providence the local rumor mill was vicious and used liberally by Mancini Democrats. In fact, the old adage was that a rumor started in Sal’s office, circulated throughout the Town and by the time it got back to Sal’s office, he believed it! John Rhude, certainly a student and protégé of Sal’s, began spreading rumors that he put me through college and supported me and my wife. His oldest daughter Debbie challenged my faith by saying it was near sacrilegious for me to have walked door to door with Ralph Campagnone on Good Friday. Sal told my good friend Benjamin “Ben” Scungio that he would be better off if he didn’t associate with me. And Fred Marzilli’s job application for the position of Administrative Assistant to the Mayor was rejected because John Rhude felt that Fred was too close to me. The attempted character assassination proved to be a valuable lesson in just how vicious politics could be. All this was intended to deter me from running for Council, but Sal and his supporters underestimated my resolve.

Lessons from the Zoning Board

The personal attacks were not the only political lessons in ’79. As an alternate to the Zoning Board it had been my practice to view the properties that were the subject of the Zoning Board’s agenda prior to the day of the meeting. When possible, I would meet with both the petitioner and the objectors in an effort to understand the issues involved. Peter McBride, the Chairman of the Zoning Board advised me not to speak with neighbors prior to the Board’s meeting because it could prejudice my decision. “How else could I see the area and understand the issues,” I asked. “Look,” he said, “we are Democrats and sometimes we have to grant favors for other Democrats.” I knew he was referring to the proposed construction of a strip plaza on land on Smith Street owned by Sal Mancini. The lot was being cleared and plans were underway to relocate the house Sal occupied from the Smith Street lot to a new lot elsewhere. The Smith Street lot, however, was undersized and the required approval of the Zoning Board was circumvented in the issuance of the building permit. Emilio “Mel” Ceroni, the Building Inspector, was a former hairdresser with no prior construction experience. Popular thought was that Sal appointed him to the position for that very reason as a means of controlling the decisions of the office. Now Sal was exercising that control. But I believed it was wrong and I intended to stop it. At the conclusion of the Zoning Board meeting held on June 7, 1979, I moved to seek a restraining order on further development until a court could decide if the permit was issued legally. Joe Piccardi, in seconding the motion, added that we also ask for a restraining order preventing Ceroni from issuing any building permits on undersized lots. The motion carried and the effect reverberated through Town Hall. 

Young Democrats Mean Nothing to Me

As with many youthful victories, the euphoria of triumph following our takeover of the R.I. Young Democrats was fleeting. Doc Corvese, Fred Marzilli, newly-elected R.I. Young Democrat President Frank DelVecchio, and I were scheduled to meet with Governor Garrahy on August 23rd. The meeting was requested by the Young Democrats to voice our concern and displeasure about the Young Democrats being denied a seat on the R.I. Democrat Party State Committee, a perk that Sue McGuirl’s Young Democrats had enjoyed. We were greeted instead by one of the Governor’s aids, Bob Pirraglia. In a 3½-hour meeting the personable future judge discussed everything from his college days to the upcoming 1980 elections. Eventually the conversation turned to the business at hand and suddenly we all wished it hadn’t. Pirraglia told us that he doesn’t like the Young Democrats, doesn’t appreciate people who use organizations to get titles, feels that our organization is weak and didn’t hold high opinions of any of us as political activists. He said we only beat McGuirl because she didn’t give a shit and that they had individual reputations that were more important than organization titles. On the one positive note he said that he will consider working with us going forward if we can show him specifics on how we can help the party and Governor Garrahy in the upcoming off-year elections in Blackstone Valley and in the 1980 Gubernatorial election. This is certainly not what we expected to hear. Despite what we considered significant political gains in town, the statewide decision-makers had little respect for us or our presumed political savvy. 

Sal Flexes His Muscles

Regardless of the Young Democrat’s less-than-stellar statewide reputation, Mancini continued to focus his attention on me. Whether he considered me a political threat, a nuisance or simply someone of whom he needed to make an example, his attacks were virulent and unending. He promised his supporters that I would not be a candidate for Council against them and worked to make good on his promise. 

Undeterred, I continued to move forward with my plans. Campaign Manager Frank Anzeveno had arranged the North Providence Boys and Girls Club as a venue for a Halloween costume party fundraiser. With the proceeds of fifty prepaid tickets in hand and an equal number of supporters who promised to attend, we had obtained from the Town Council a one-day, limited liquor license to serve beer and wine at the event. But late in the day on Friday October 5th, Anzeveno was summoned to the Club by facility Director Don Placido. Once there, Placido informed Frank of pressure he had sustained from “Boy’s Club people” due to the political nature of the Halloween party. He had overstepped his authority in granting permission to use the Club for such an event and had to rescind his offer. With just three weeks to go before the party we now had no place to hold it. 

John Rhude meanwhile worked equally hard to thwart my efforts to run against him. Word reached me that he actually threatened one of his tenants with eviction if she attended my fundraiser. I had never conceived of such unimaginable behavior! 

Anzeveno eventually secured a hall at Rhode Island College as a venue for the Halloween party. Despite the opposition’s efforts, the event turned out to be a very successful fundraiser with 140 guests attending and an additional 35 paid no-shows.

A Life Altering Job

September 18, 1979, was a day I had long awaited. Early in the afternoon I was notified that I was selected for an administrative assistant position with the R.I. Solid Waste Management Corporation (RISWMC) ending my two-year search for a full-time, paid position in the public service. The quasi-public agency responsible for the disposal of all solid waste generated within the borders of the state was governed by a 9-member board of directors that included two state representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House (Aldo Freda and Michael Horan), one senator (Ann Hanson), appointed by the Lt. Governor, One mayor (Dennis Lynch of Pawtucket), the Director of the Department of Environmental Management (Edward Wood) and four additional at-large members all appointed by the Governor. The Chairman of the Board was retired Supreme Court Justice William E. Powers. 

Though I advanced through the interview process as the number one choice of the staff evaluation committee, the selection process became political when board member and longtime State Representative Aldo Freda, known as the “Dean of the House” because of his 18-year tenure, fielded his own candidate for the job. Matthew J. Smith, who was Chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee, supported my appointment and ultimately I was hired to the position that carried an annual salary of $11,998. My employment began on October 1, 1979. Representative Freda, who was not accustomed to losing, arranged for the creation of the additional position, that of Recycling Coordinator, allowing for the hiring of his candidate as well. 

This was a major turning point in my life, one that would allow me to both purchase a home and begin a family. Everything, it seemed, was turning my way. That changed quickly, however, when Mayor Mancini, in his new position as Vice Chairman of the R.I. League of Cities & Towns, was selected to attend a mid-October fact-finding trip to Switzerland to view European Waste to Energy facilities similar to one being proposed by my new employer in Rhode Island. The Waste to Energy process creates steam through the incineration of solid waste. The steam is then used to generate electricity that is sold to the power company for infusion into their energy grid. The agency for which I now worked was trying to build such a facility and Mancini would be spending a week with my new boss as part of an envoy charged with reporting their findings back to the League, information that would enable them to formulate a position on the feasibility of the project in Rhode Island. 

On Friday October 5th, Sal Mancini had an impromptu meeting with Bernie Frezza at a volunteer party for Senator Anthony Marciano. The mayor made a point of telling Bernie, “By the time I come back from Europe, Paul won’t have a job.” Before Mancini even left Rhode Island, I received a call from a very upset Matt Smith who said that he had gotten a call from Al West (RISWMC Legal Counsel) and Rep. Aldo Freda complaining about my “differences” with Sal. They expressed concern about not wanting problems with Sal and Matt Smith instructed me to get the matter resolved within a week. 

I reached out to Dick Fossa, who had a good relationship with Rep. Freda, for help. Dick promised to speak to Freda on my behalf. Fossa later informed me that during their conversation Freda told Fossa that he didn’t realize that I was a political ally of Fossa’s and promised to take a low profile on the issue. When the European trip was over however, Mancini made it clear to Louis (Lou) C. David, the Executive Director of RISWMC, that while he was impressed with what he had seen in Switzerland, “as far as I am concerned, R.I. Solid Waste Management Corporation has one employee too many and I could never support the project as long as Caranci works there.” Lou later told me that Sal spoke to him about firing me so often during the European trip that Lou would clandestinely peer out his bedroom door and actually look around the corner of the Swiss hotel to be sure Sal wasn’t there before venturing out into the hallway!

From my perspective, the State House was abuzz over this issue from the Governor’s Office on down. In one day I received phone calls from Lt. Governor Tom DiLuglio, R.I. Democrat Party Chairman Rocco Quattrocci and Speaker of the House Matthew Smith, all urging me to not run for the Town Council seat. Witnessing the power that Sal had and the fear he could instill in so many was absolutely incredible to me!

By early November, it appeared that Mancini’s efforts to have me fired from my job would be unsuccessful. Mayor Lynch and Rep. Horan informed Charlie Lombardi, also an advocate for me, that they would remain neutral. Rep. Freda promised Fossa the same. And, Judge Powers vigorously defended my right to both run for the Council and remain employed at the agency. 

Weeks passed and all seemed fine until Mancini phoned Lou David. Mancini noted that he was willing to drop the whole episode until he learned that I was boasting throughout town that “Sal tried to have me fired from my job but couldn’t.” Of course, that was not true, but it served as the justification for Mancini to renew his efforts to have me fired.

Paul F. Caranci is a historian and serves on the board of directors for the RI Heritage Hall of Fame. He is a cofounder of, and consultant to The Municipal Heritage Group and the author of five published books including two produced by The History Press. North Providence: A History & The People Who Shaped It (2012) and The Hanging & Redemption of John Gordon: The True Story of Rhode Island’s Last Execution (2013) that was selected by The Providence Journal as one of the top five non-fiction books of 2013. Paul served for eight years as Rhode Island’s Deputy Secretary of State and for almost seventeen years as a councilman in his hometown of North Providence. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Margie. They have two adult children, Heather and Matthew, and four grandsons, Matthew Jr., Jacob, Vincent and Casey.

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