Wired: 1999 to 2000, A Book by Paul Caranci

Monday, April 17, 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

1999

INAUGURATION DAY III

The year began harmoniously with the inauguration ceremony that, in addition to me, included Council members Bob Ricci, Peter Simone, John Sisto, John Zambarano, Eileen Cook and newcomer Joseph Burchfield. Burchfield, who won election to the District 2 Council seat formerly held by Charlie Lombardi, was a very polite, humble and affable person who would later develop what appeared to be a giant ego and an insatiable political ambition. His father, Jimmy Burchfield, was a well-respected longtime businessman in town and had for many years generously supported the community in which he lived and conducted business. Burchfield was one of only two Council members (the other being Eileen Cook) who occasionally supported my initiatives. He seemed more open-minded to my proposals and occasionally lent a sympathetic ear, if not outright support, to them. 

Another Liquor Store

As was the case in the previous year, the harmony that was enjoyed on inauguration day vanished quickly. In February the Council announced that it would entertain approving a fifth Class-A liquor license in town meaning that there would now be a sixth liquor store. In addition, the White Cross Pharmacy, another independent drug store sought to upgrade a Class-E to a Class-A license so that it too could compete with the chain stores. My fears in my colleague’s granting of the Delta Drug license were coming to pass sooner than even I expected. But being right was no consolation and I would work very hard to ensure that the additional licenses would not be granted without a fight.

As I suspected in the case of the Delta Drug license, the fifth Class-A package store license seemed also to be destined for a “friend.” Three applications were received for the license. Joseph Marciano Jr., a former town building inspector and local businessman was the first to apply for a Class-A liquor license having submitted his application back in 1992. He was proposing a store on Charles Street, a main thoroughfare that ran through the Village of Marieville from north to south. The other two applicants each proposed a site on Mineral Spring Avenue, the State’s second most heavily traveled road. 

Jack Aldrich, a businessman who owned both an automobile dealership and a bar & grille in Marieville, wanted to open his store near the Rt. 146 off ramp while Joseph Pompeselli opted for a rented location just outside of Marieville more toward the center of town. Both Marciano and Pompeselli had political ties to North Providence politics. Each served on the Democrat Town Committee and each had long careers in either state or municipal service. But the Marciano’s had fallen out of favor with Bob Ricci when the applicant’s son, Joe Marciano, III (the same person I helped to remove from the Zoning Board with my vote of acquiescence) challenged Ricci in a run for the vacant council-at-large seat. 

The battle for this license was a contentious one. I made it clear to all applicants and Council members that called seeking my support that I would not vote in favor of granting another liquor license in town. 

There were rumors that such licenses were frequently sold in violation of state law and carried a street value of $25,000 or more. Despite my recent suspicions about the conduct of business of certain Council members, I had no hard evidence of that being the case.

On April 19th, the issue of granting the license was before the Council for a vote. I again presented an argument against the proliferation of liquor licenses in town. This time, private citizen Charlie Lombardi supported my view saying, “Look, are we going to make Marieville Pleasantville? No. But I don’t want to see it Liquorville either.” Two members were absent for the vote. John Sisto had a death in the family and could not attend. Eileen Cook offered no excuse for her absence.

During debate on the issue I again proffered that there was no need for an additional liquor license in the town suggesting that opting to create the fifth Class-A license violated the spirit if not the letter of the law. When it appeared that the argument was again falling on deaf ears, I moved to postpone the vote so that the members could have an opportunity to view the three locations with an eye toward determining the impact on traffic and neighborhood quality of life. 

The motion failed to receive a second and the question was eventually moved. It appeared to me that facts were irrelevant and would take a back seat to what appeared to be a pre-arranged outcome. Joe Burchfield and I voted to not issue the license. Councilmen Bob Ricci, Peter Simone and John Zambarano voted to award the license to Joe Pompeselli. Ricci defended his vote saying that by issuing the license to Pompeselli the “Town can ensure that a large liquor store doesn’t move into town.” He further stated that the Pompeselli site is far enough from other liquor stores that it will not adversely interfere with the conduct of business at those establishments. “There’s no residential neighborhood around him, and I felt that would be the least of all evils,” he later noted to a reporter. No Bob, I thought after reading his comments in the Providence Journal, the least of all evils would have been to deny the issuance of the license! 

Ricci’s logic was laughable for another reason. The location of the liquor store that Aldrich proposed was only two doors down from the location offered by Pompeselli. Therefore any impact to the neighborhood from one proposed site would be nearly identical to the impact caused by the other. 

Most controversies on the Council ended when the vote was taken. This one continued. Shortly after the meeting Marciano Jr. and Aldrich complained that the selection process had been unfair. In December, when the issue of the license originally appeared on the Council agenda, Aldrich and Marciano Jr. were the only applicants scheduled to appear. Marciano applied for the license in 1992 while Aldrich applied in 1997. Each application was stored with the town clerk until such time that the Council opted to create the fifth Class-A liquor license. 

Aldrich, however, had been involved in an automobile accident and could not attend the December hearing. In a magnanimous gesture typical of Joe Marciano Jr., he asked that his application be withdrawn from the December agenda and continued to the next meeting saying it wouldn’t be fair to ask the Council to make a decision with Aldrich unavailable to testify on his own behalf. 

The Council decided to reschedule the hearing for April 19th. On March 29th, Pompeselli submitted his application for the same license. It would have been proper for the town clerk to reject the application noting that the deadline had passed with only the two applications received in time for the issue to be placed on the prior Council agenda when the applications were originally scheduled for hearing. At the very least, the Clerk should have advised the Council that he had accepted an application as a back up in the event that the other applicants did not qualify for the license. Instead, the license application was considered at the same time as the two original applications and those who voted to grant the license to Pompeselli scrambled for excuses often contradicting their original statements of justification. Providence Journal reporter Brian D. Mockenhaupt reported,

“Councilmen Ricci, Simone and Zambarano said they approved Pompeselli’s application because he wanted to run a small business that would be far enough from other liquor stores that it wouldn’t compete for their business.”

 

Zambarano added that he voted against the Marciano location because, “The Marieville area was going to be saturated with liquor stores and I didn’t think he had sufficient parking.” All three said they favored Pompeselli, “because he wanted to run a small, ‘mom-and-pop’ operation.” Simone continued, “Aldrich’s store wasn’t going to be a little mom-and-pop operation. It’s a substantial size, not gigantic, but it would have been a much bigger operation.” Aldrich immediately objected to Simone’s comment noting that “he was the one who originally used the phrase ‘mom-and-pop store’ to describe his proposal.” In response, the defense proffered by the three councilmen shifted again to one of quantity. “Because Aldrich already has a liquor license for his bar,” they said, “they were hesitant to give him a second. We really didn’t want to give two licenses to the same person in a two year period,” Simone said. “I thought it would be a little more equitable if we split it up.” Funny, I thought, there was no mention of that reasoning at the meeting. 

Marciano appealed the Council’s decision to the State Liquor License Control Board at the Department of Business Regulation, which scheduled a hearing for June 2nd. The extended controversy, however, apparently generated more publicity than Pompeselli wanted to become entangled with. He lamented, “since being awarded the license, he has found himself in the middle of ‘political stone-throwing’ involving council members and applicants who were denied the license.” In a remarkable turn of events, he returned the license to the Town “urging the council to declare a moratorium, and not re-issue the license.” Bob Ricci immediately asked the Council to consider the moratorium at a meeting the following week calling Pompeselli an honorable man of integrity who didn’t want his name dragged through the mud. For the first time in my Council tenure, the body adopted a sour-grapes policy suggested by a disgruntled liquor license applicant! Marciano Jr. objected to the impending action noting, “The council should not impose a moratorium while his appeal to the state board is pending.” 

When Ricci’s motion for a 3-month moratorium was considered at the May Council meeting, I voted against it. “By passing a 3-month moratorium,” I said, “some might think the council is merely waiting for another applicant who wins the council’s favor. If the council does not choose to abolish the license it should award the license to Marciano, who was the first to submit an application in 1992.” As was becoming typical, the Ricci motion prevailed on a 6 to 1 vote meaning that in just 90 days the Council would once again have the prerogative to issue the fifth license. In my heart I just knew that when the time came, another “golden boy” would be found for the license. My suspicions were growing that liquor licenses in North Providence were not without a price. The question I now began to contemplate was how much and to whom?

It was becoming apparent to me that votes were not being taken with the best interest of the Town in mind. Bob Ricci and his best friend John Zambarano seemed to be able to muster a four-vote majority every time they needed it. They always seemed to be able to convince two of the other unsuspecting Council members to support their point of view without betraying the fact that their own position was motivated by enlightened self-interest. Sometimes it was Simone, sometimes Sisto and sometimes Cook. Regardless of how the majority was configured, Ricci and Zambarano were frequently conjoined when directing the vote. 

Likewise, I was beginning to read their body language and identify a pattern in their defense of inexplicable and unreasonable votes. The logic didn’t seem to matter, nor did the consistency. Their voices would rise a little and their speech pattern would quicken. Their facial expressions would change and they would become defensive and aggressive. Whenever these behaviors were present in their posture, I had reason to be suspicious of their action. 

Confirmation of my suspicion arrived over ten-years later via a “cleansing” or “confession” by John Zambarano. During a 2008 conference of the National League of Cities held in Reno, Nevada, Zambarano tried to engage my friendship and political support by distancing himself from his close friend Bob Ricci who had since departed from the Council. In a rant that lasted for some three days, Zambarano berated Ricci’s brand of politics and confided to me and my wife Margie that Bob Ricci was always concerned that I might oppose him in a mayoral contest and sought to discredit my proposals for that reason. 

It was also Ricci, Zambarano insisted, that had pledged his support to Secretary of State candidate Matthew Brown in 2001 on the condition that, if Brown defeated my boss, the then current Secretary of State Edward S. Inman, that Brown fire me from my position as Director of Secretary of State’s First Stop Business Information Center. Further, Zambarano declared, Ricci convinced Zambarano and school committee member David Wilkes to work with him in the effort to elect Matt Brown. 

Brown did indeed defeat Edward S. Inman in the 2002 Primary Election and proceeded to dismiss me from his service. In fact, according to Zambarano, Ricci’s aversion of me was so discordant that he asked Matt Brown not to dismiss me in person but instead to have me read of my replacement in the Providence Journal. Brown was grateful for the financial and political support of the trio of friends and apparently happy to oblige. 

Zambarano also acknowledged that it was Ricci who insisted that the 5th liquor license be issued to Joe Pompeselli as a punishment for Joe Marciano III’s challenge of Ricci for the open Council-at-Large seat years earlier. This authentication of my suspicions caused me to reconsider with a jaundiced eye the many previous votes that made no sense to me at the time they were cast. 

While all this was going on, I didn’t lose sight of my desire to take on at least one quality of life initiative each year. In 1999 the issue was one that arose from left field and impacted me deeply. 

Taking on the Illegal Sale of Tobacco to Children

In late 1998, I discovered that my two teenage children had been smoking cigarettes. This had been going on for so long now that they were both essentially addicted. How could both my children be smoking with neither Margie nor I having any indication of their addiction? “How did you get cigarettes in the first place?” I asked our two children once they finally admitted the truth. The answer was a bigger shock than was the initial news of their smoking! “Remember those times when you told us to order a pizza for dinner?” my daughter said. “Well the delivery man sold us cigarettes too. Once we started smoking we found that there are plenty of places willing to sell cigarettes to us.” 

I was aware that selling tobacco products to minors was illegal in Rhode Island. What I didn’t realize was that the laws were so sparsely enforced, the fines so minimal and the practice so lucrative that many tobacco vendors were willing to take the risk. While I’ve never assigned blame on adult addiction to tobacco products on the tobacco industry, I do believe that they are complicit in the seduction of children to the addiction. I also believe that public health laws, once passed, should be adhered to and enforced. Apparently, this was not happening with regard to the illegal sale of tobacco products to minors. 

I decided to introduce an ordinance requiring additional safeguards against tobacco vendors in North Providence selling tobacco products to minors. These restrictions proposed additional compliance requirements and a license revocation for repeat violators. I anticipated some pushback from tobacco vendors, youth and the ACLU. I didn’t anticipate a problem from the Council. Based on our prior history, however, perhaps I should have. 

In an effort to avoid the pushback created in the discussions surrounding the eventual passage of the Sexually Oriented Business Ordinance I drafted the tobacco ordinance and floated the concept before introducing it. As a result of the comments received, I revised the draft several times before finally introducing it at the Council meeting of January 12, 1999. The final revision of the proposal didn’t really introduce any new laws. It simply provided a local means of enforcing those provisions that were already part of the State Laws. For example, while the 77 or so tobacco vendors in North Providence would not be required to meet any new legal standard other than those contained in current state law, fines for the violation of existing laws would be significantly increased. 

R.I. Law imposed fines of $50, $100 and $200 for first, second and third offenses if vendors were caught selling tobacco products to minors. The fine for subsequent offenses remained at $200.00 for each new offense. My proposal increased the fines to $200, $500 and $1,000 with a revocation of the license after the third offense. There are not too many vendors, I reasoned, that would risk paying such substantial fines and face the potential loss of their otherwise lucrative license simply to increase sales by selling to children. My proposal also stiffened penalties for anyone violating the statewide prohibition of smoking on school grounds. 

Councilman Ricci was the first to speak out against the proposal even before it was introduced. “It’s well intentioned,” he said, “but places that sell tobacco are already regulated by the federal and state government. The Town regulating it is overkill. It’s excessive.” Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU said, “…The proposal to make possession of tobacco by people under 18 an offense is particularly troubling. It’s something that will give the police enormous power to hassle young kids.” Brown was actually addressing an issue from an earlier draft that was eliminated before introduction.

For my part, I underscored the significance of such a proposal by quoting the U.S. Surgeon General who has declared that, “nicotine addiction from tobacco is similar to addiction to cocaine, and is the most widespread example of drug dependency in this Country.” I added that the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that cigarette smoking proceeds, and may be predictive of, adolescent illicit drug use. Further, the use of tobacco products by minor children is so rampant in this State that the R.I. General Assembly, in 1996, declared that the use of tobacco by R.I. children is a health and substance abuse problem of the utmost severity. The Legislature found that over 30% of high school students are smoking and that number is increasing. They further reported that R.I. retailers are illegally selling 4,800,000 packs of cigarettes to minors each year for annual sales of $11,000,000. My admonitions went on and on. None of the statistics mattered in the end.

With little fanfare, the Council voted to send the proposal to the Public Safety Committee, the Finance Committee and the dreaded Ordinance Committee where many of my proposals were sent to die. I can’t recall another time in North Providence Council history that one ordinance was sent to three different Committees for review. I interpreted that action as an indication of the Council’s attempt to kill the legislation. I knew that, as had been the case with the Sexually Oriented Business Ordinance, if I expected this proposal to see the light of day, I would need to take my case directly to the people. 

For the second time in as many years I began a crusade. I spoke at meetings of several local PTO groups, the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, the Community Police Storefronts, and to anyone else that would listen. I walked door-to-door gathering signatures on a petition of support and I appeared on many radio and cable TV programs discussing the merits of the proposal. As before, Bob Cerilli was with me every step of the way, driving me to events, prepping me for media appearances, arranging speaking events, and just about anything else he could do to support my effort. 

In April Bob Cerilli and I had occasion to attend a book signing event at Brown University for author and actor Carroll O’Connor, better known for his portrayal of Archie Bunker in the hit television sit-com All in the Family. Congressman Patrick Kennedy arranged for a private reception after the event and I took advantage of the opportunity to discuss my proposed ordinance with O’Connor who was promoting his new book, I Think I’m Outta Here. The book chronicles the life of O’Connor’s son who was driven to suicide by a drug addiction. The actor-turned-author told me how he believed that tobacco was a gateway drug and that an ordinance such as the one I was proposing may prevent people like his son from ever becoming involved in harder drug use. He signed a statement of support for my ordinance as a means of endorsement and told me to feel free to use his name and photo in the promotion of it. He also drafted a letter in which he said, “…as a grandfather I am saddened by the growing statistics, and as a citizen I am outraged by the recklessness of the retailers who so carelessly contribute to the problem…I look forward to the time when we have overcome them, and your noble intentions are getting us closer to that day.” I did just that and the reaction was dramatic. People couldn’t believe that such a high-profiled movie star would feel so passionately about a council proposal from North Providence. The publicity from that press release and the photo of him signing the statement of support for the ordinance generated a great deal of interest in the community and caught the attention of the local media outlets.

Just prior to the end of the school year I attended an event at the North Providence High School. Some students approached and asked if I was Mr. Caranci, the person who sponsored the tobacco ordinance. I expected serious resistance from young high school students. Instead what I received surprised me. Thank you for introducing the smoking ordinance, they said. It is so bad at the school that we are afraid to go to the bathroom. We hold it all day until we get home. 

It seems that smoking in the bathrooms was so prevalent at the high school that the student smokers actually developed signals that they used before entering a bathroom in order to identify themselves as another student rather than a teacher. If a student smoking in a bathroom stall were forced to flush the cigarette in the toilet because another student, and not a teacher, was entering the bathroom without the proper identifying “knock,” the smoker would beat up the innocent student for causing the smoker to discard a good cigarette. 

I couldn’t believe conditions at the school were so bad that non-smoking students were afraid to use the bathrooms! I had a discussion with High School Principal Joseph Goho, who confirmed the excessive and out-of-control use of tobacco products on school grounds. It’s not only the students, he confessed. Parents and others also smoke in the parking lot, in violation of state law. Even some teachers will sneak a smoke when they can get away with it, he told me. I was incredulous and asked if he would support my ordinance. He directed me to North Providence School Superintendent Paul Vorro. Vorro agreed to bring the ordinance to the school committee for consideration and placed it on their August 25th meeting agenda. With very little discussion and no fanfare the school board members voted unanimously to endorse it.

Throughout the entire year Bob Cerilli continued to write favorable letters-to-the-editor to the Providence Journal and the North Star. At least 10 of them found their way into one paper or the other. As a final visual for use at the Council hearing, Bob and I collected cigarette butts from the High School parking lot. We half-filled a large, clear-plastic container in just two short trips to the lot noting that each butt constituted a violation of existing state law. 

I held a press conference the day before the Council meeting to ensure a large audience of supporters at the meeting. All three Rhode Island television news stations covered the conference as did radio and print media. The ordinance was described in that media coverage as one of the toughest in the state. It levied progressive fines from $250 to $1,000 on businesses repeatedly caught selling cigarettes to minors. It also directed police to conduct surprise inspections at least twice a year on each of the 77 cigarette vendors in town. Finally, it required that parents be notified when students are caught smoking on school property and mandated either public service or attendance at a cessation program for repeat school-aged offenders. 

At the meeting on October 5th, the Council chamber was filled with students and parents holding signs that we provided in support of the ordinance. I began my presentation. “Mr. President, we are at war, and while we play ostrich, our children are being slaughtered. It’s time that we recognize that we are facing an enemy against whom we need to defend ourselves with every weapon available in our arsenal.” When I finished my soliloquy, I called upon speakers that I arranged from the American Heart Association, the R.I. Lung Association, The American Cancer Society, and the Diabetes Foundation of R.I. to speak scientifically about the proposal. Students spoke of their “bathroom experiences.” As the speakers made their way to the microphone, Cerilli, compared himself to Vanna White from the popular television program Wheel of Fortune as he displayed the container of cigarettes to the audience explaining that they were collected on just two Sundays from the High School grounds. 

The North Breeze reported, “Perhaps the most powerful message was delivered not from a member of any health organization, but from Manny Francis, a victim of throat cancer who had to have his voice box removed.” The eighty-one year old Mr. Francis was referred to me from the American Cancer Society. He had been smoking since he was 11 and said he was speaking for all adults who smoke and wish they never started. In a “raspy, metallic voice” he said he had smoked for years before being diagnosed with throat cancer. He had endured forty-years of radiation treatments before losing his vocal chords. “I wish I had been given this warning 70 years ago,” he said as the audience broke into applause. His presentation was dramatic indeed! 

All the while, the three television news cameras rolled, the print media wrote and the radio reporters fiddled with their tape recorders. Needless to say, the vote to approve the ordinance was unanimous with all seven members voting for passage and Councilman John Sisto saying that he may even take advantage of the opportunity to quit smoking himself. 

News of the passage of the town’s new “tough” tobacco ordinance made national news and was reported in the October 7, 1999 USA Today, the October 25, 1999 edition of Nation’s Cities Weekly and other publications. In the ensuing weeks, the local media called incessantly asking why I was involved in so many social reform issues. They couldn’t understand why I would openly discuss things that others might consider highly personal. Reporter Robert Smith of the Providence Journal wrote a half-page expose noting,

“In fact, some of North Providence’s most contentious social debates in recent times incubated at the Caranci home. Through the prism of family life, Caranci – one of the town’s most active legislators – then undertakes the legislation to address it. Six months or a year or more later, the town council usually approves a version of his original idea. As goes the Caranci family, some say, so goes North Providence.”

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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