Wired: Postscript, a Book by Paul Caranci

Monday, August 07, 2017
Paul F. Caranci, Author

Paul Caranci
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

 

POSTSCRIPT

Taking Stock

“Some years are clear and some a little blurry. Man how they fly by. Mom and Dad sure got old in a hurry. Where have I been all my life? I heard What a Wonderful Life by Louie Armstrong. It brought a tear to my eyes. After all these years I finally get that song. Where have I been all my life?”

~From George Straight’s hit country song

“Where Have I Been All My Life”

 

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

~Conservative Irish Statesman Edmund Burke

 

When I first got involved in local government some forty years ago, I had a list of goals in mind that I would like to accomplish if ever given the chance to serve in elected office. Like anything else, those goals evolved and changed over the years. But while my agenda may have changed, my philosophy and principals did not! It is for that reason that I believe I have accomplished a great deal of what I set out to achieve. I have also gotten involved in some things that were unimaginable to me all those years ago.

As I faced the reality of the challenges that would confront me in 2009, 2010 and 2011, other things began to come more into focus. Both my parents were suffering from varying stages of dementia and needed my support and attention. For so long the burden of their care fell to my sister Linda. She alone had to provide the daily nurturing that they so desperately needed and that wasn’t fair. While I tended to the needs of my constituents and sought to eliminate corruption from my town government, my parents were getting old in my absence. I wanted to get more involved in their care and I needed to help out with a more hands-on approach. At the same time, my four grandchildren were growing up and I wanted to spend more quality time with them.

From a political point of view, my 2010 candidacy would pose a distraction from the legal events that were to come and I didn’t want my campaign to be cited by defense attorneys as a motivation for my actions in exposing the crimes that had been committed.

Finally, though I didn’t speak of it much, I had grown fond of some of my colleagues. John Zambarano had a wit about him that made him fun to be with and I was truly saddened when I learned of the extent of Joe Burchfield’s involvement in the conspiracy for he had started out in government as one of the nice guys. These things weighed on me and I grew increasingly discouraged by all things political.

After discussing the options with Margie, we both decided that I needed to reorder my priorities and that would mean not seeking re-election to the position I had held since 1994. On June 3, 2010, just 2 days after receiving the unanimous endorsement of the North Providence Democrat Town Committee, I announced my decision. Of course, there were many that speculated that my departure was the result of an impending indictment, which, in their minds, justified my actions in the corruption investigation. Those were the people who just couldn’t imagine that anyone would sacrifice so much voluntarily. The feds had to have something on me, they reasoned.

Throughout my political career I never really worried about what other people thought of me. I mean, as with anyone else, I preferred when others liked me, but I never let that emotion dictate my actions. Helping the FBI expose the white-collar crime and political corruption in North Providence, therefore, should have been an easy decision. Yet, I agonized over it. I knew that many people, especially some of Italian decent, would view my actions as neither brave nor honorable. Some old-school Italians are still of the mindset that one should never “rat” on someone else.

Margie is very practical. She has a strong character and I have come to rely on her for advice. After discussing the possibilities with her I decided that I would not let the feelings of others prevent me from doing the right thing. Why should being an Italian mean that you have to accept crime? Why must being Italian mean that you have to look the other way when someone commits an illegal act, or several illegal acts? Why is it that only non-Italians are expected to expose corruption while Italians are required to respect the “time-honored traditions” of hoodlums and gangsters? That is not how I was raised!

I was raised as an Italian-American, by Italian-American parents, in an Italian-American household. Like millions of other Italian-Americans I was raised to respect authority, to be honest and to always do the right thing. What’s more, my election to public office imparted to me, no, it imposed on me, a fiduciary responsibility to the people I was elected to serve. That responsibility was accentuated in the oath of office that was administered to me several times throughout my years of public service. That oath includes a pledge to support the laws of the town and the state and the constitutions of the state and the country.

I took that oath seriously and when I learned of the self-serving misdeeds that were destroying the quality of life for people in North Providence, I viewed it as an obligation to try to stop those involved. When conversation and the outcome of ordinary elections failed to accomplish that objective there was no way to stop the corruption, greed and avarice of the elected officials other than to expose it.

The fiduciary responsibility that comes with elected office is quite different from the responsibility of an employee working in a private or public organization that learns of wrong doing and simply turns a blind eye, refusing to participate in the scheme; or one who is told of wrongdoing by a friend but takes no action to stop it. I believe in my heart that for me to simply look the other way while ignoring the fact that crimes were being committed, crimes that hurt the very people that I was elected to protect, would have certainly violated my fiduciary responsibility and may itself have constituted an illegal act. And, to do so simply to preserve my quality of life – my job, my salary, my position on the Council, my standing in the community, my friendships, etc. - would be reprehensible and repugnant. That would make me no better, nor any different, than those who were committing the crimes simply to advance their own quality of life. Doing nothing would have been abhorrent to every instinct in my body.

No-Spin Zone host Bill O'Reilly, in his book, Pinheads and Patriots, writes, “There are basically two kinds of people in the world: Those whose thoughts and actions say ‘me first.’ And those whose primary goal is to look out for others the same way they would look out for themselves (a Judeo-Christian philosophy). Generally speaking, the patriots come from the second category.”

I believe that Americans of Italian decent, like their forefathers in Italy, are patriots. They do not condone crime simply because it may have been committed by another Italian, a friend, a colleague, or an acquaintance. Their obligation as American citizens is to report the crime and help stop it where possible. If most people of Italian decent did not feel this way then crime would run rampant in Italy and in every Italian-American community in the United States. I refuse to be led by that small minority of Italian-Americans who adopt the “thug” mentality made famous in movies like the Godfather, Goodfellows and other fictional accounts that try to paint all people of Italian heritage with that same broad brush. Yes, crime does exist and so does the Mafia. But they are not representative of the majority of God-fearing, honest, hardworking and upright citizens that are the Italian-Americans that I grew up with.

So while my actions may make me the butt of slander and the object of hatred and ridicule among some, it does not change me and I will not let it speak for the Italian- Americans that I represent. I know I have much more to do if I am to be remembered as a patriot rather than a pinhead, but that is how I choose to be remembered!

My decision to help the FBI garner evidence on the corrupt councilmen resulted in some harsh treatment afterward. I had one such encounter with a neighbor that called me many times for assistance when I was a member of the Town Council and I always tried my best to help him. Just prior to the onset of Hurricane Irene, I was taking photographs in the neighborhood to chronicle the neighborhood prior to any damage that the hurricane might cause. The neighbor verbally attacked me saying that he objected to my taking photographs of his property because “You are a rat bastard. You should have let them work things out on their own instead of ratting them out.”

In other cases I suffered the loss of friendships that I had for 10, 20, 30-years and longer. It was disheartening to have long-time friends suddenly stop talking to me or to treat me as if I didn’t exist. I believe that their behavior is wrong, but I also understand why they feel the way they do and I harbor no ill feelings toward them. Some of these people are best friends with those that I exposed and who were ultimately jailed. In the case of my neighbor, he rented office space to an attorney that was sentenced to a five year prison term. He was adversely impacted financially because of the illegal actions of his tenant, but clearly blamed me for his vacancy. Despite the fact that those who so selfishly betrayed the public trust deserved imprisonment for their actions, no one wants a friend or loved one punished for their faults and no one wants to lose money.

The most disappointing thing, however, was to have good friends sever long-standing relationships simply because they don’t think people should “rat out” others regardless of the crimes those others commit. It hurt to learn the true nature of those people that I had respected as friends and our relationships have been forever diminished as a result.

In the days following the arrests, and then again following the sentencing, I was the victim of various acts of vandalism. Tires on my SUV were slashed; nails were strewn in front of my home where my family and I park our vehicles causing many a flat tire. Someone even opened the gate to my backyard, entered, and carefully and deliberately disconnected the filter hose from our above ground swimming pool causing the water to drain overnight. The same thing happened to the filter for the garden pond in my front yard. I and my entire family suffered financially and otherwise because of my efforts to root out corruption.

I received three pieces of hate mail, only three – each anonymous of course, but each no-less venomous in their hatred of me. The first was a homemade card with a cutout of a skeleton pasted on one side and a cut out of Chuck E Cheese (the trademarked rat that represents the children’s indoor amusement facilities) pasted to the other. Under the skeleton were the words, Open Your Closet See How Many Fall Out.” Under the large close up of Chuck E. Cheese’s face was the caption, “Need A Part Time Job? CHUCK E CHEESE Could Always Use Another FAT RAT You Scum Bag.”

The second was a handwritten letter that read in part,“Hero my Ass, Now that you accomplished what you set out to do, TELL ME, are you happy? …I also hope you are happy for the innocent lives you ruined, the spouses, innocent children and especially elderly parents, who may be too ill to travel, who may never see their sons again. Does that make you proud? …All I can say is may YOU ROT IN HELL you fat rat. …May you have a happy and guilt free life.”

The final piece, a handwritten greeting card that read, “Thinking of You” on the front cover and held similar sentiments inside. “Well hello Paulie. How are things going? I understand you are having problems. Well guess what, I believe in Karma. What goes around comes around. (A clear reference to the $35,000 pay cut that I received as a result of a reorganization that occurred in the Office of the Secretary of State so soon after the arrests that the writer apparently believed that the two incidents were connected. Secretary Mollis has assured me that they are not.) …Not sure why you did what you did, but think of all the lives you RUINED. If you did it to clear your skeletons from your closet and get off that’s one thing. But to do it to be a good citizen then that’s a FAT RAT. Again, remember all the lives besides the men you ruined. Go to Indiana and be a good citizen there. (A reference to a job offer I received to work in that state. I had once mentioned this job offer to John Zambarano.) You are nothing but a FAT RAT and may you ROT in HELL.”

Both the handwriting on the three correspondence and the words contained in them, are so similar that it identifies the author of the three different pieces of mail as the same person. Demonstrably misguided, the writer believes it is permissible to “turn someone in” to save your own skin, but wrong to do so for the greater good. It is apparent that the writer of this “fan mail” justifies political corruption as the normal and routine course of business. Too many people do!

The penmanship and style betray the attempts at anonymity however. The Town Hall employee who authored the three notes was the beneficiary of the actions of the corrupt councilmen. While the hypocrisy is despicable, I harbor no ill will toward this person because I recognize that the writer was “MAD” probably because of the close relationship with one of the convicted councilmen.

By contrast, I received hundreds of phone calls, e-mails, cards, letters and personal greetings in support of my actions. Some were received from friends and some were from complete strangers. Some were from the family members of elected officials and many were from politicians themselves. They came from Rhode Island municipalities from Woonsocket to Newport and from Coventry to Barrington. They came from many states including New York, Maine, Virginia, Indiana, California, Florida and Minnesota. They came from Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Tea Partiers. And, many came from North Providence. I am eternally grateful for all of them. It is comforting to know that the vast majority of people condemn corruption in government and appreciate the efforts of those who work to expose it. It is even more uplifting to receive those words of encouragement, especially those received during the time that I was experiencing the stress brought about by the negative sentiments of others.

Public corruption has a negative impact on the whole of society. According to a 2004 report issued by the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis,“Public officials are supposed to be trustees of the commonweal, not political buccaneers seeking their own gain. But sometimes, in what economists call a ‘principal-agent problem,’ those trustees forsake that obligation and misuse the power delegated to them in ways that advance their personal interests rather than those of the public. The problem isn’t just limited to chief executives – mayors, governors and presidents – accepting gifts or kickbacks. Legislators, too, can sell their votes to special interests in exchange for campaign contributions or other special favors. All such practices are morally reprehensible, often illegal, and they erode the public’s faith in political institutions. But what are the economic consequences?”

The report suggests that those consequences can be significant.

“First, political corruption increases the cost of doing business by at least the amount of the bribe paid to secure favorable treatment. Institutionalized bribery also introduces a new set of transaction costs - the costs of negotiating, monitoring and enforcing illicit agreements and avoiding detection by those not a party to the agreement. And since corruption involves the arbitrary use of discretionary power, uncertainty – that great bogeyman of business confidence – rises, and the business environment becomes less secure.

Second, political corruption undercuts free markets and hampers efficiency. Firms with political connections can be less cost-conscious since they are shielded from competition. Third, corruption distorts the allocation of resources toward projects that can generate (illicit) payoffs. Besides the undesirable efficiency consequences arising from this distortion, the effect is likely to aggravate social inequities, because the poor and powerless suffer, by definition, a comparative disadvantage in securing special favors.”

The suggested consequences of public corruption can be reduced business development, job growth and wages all of which translate into higher taxes. Yet, quantifying political corruption can be difficult because perpetrators work so hard to conceal their crimes. To determine the extent of public corruption in the various states, Thomas Schlesinger and Kenneth Meier developed a scale “that uses the number of convictions of public officials for crimes involving corruption as a proxy for the level of political corruption across states.” This exercise reveals that the states with the highest level of corruption are Maryland, Louisiana and Rhode Island.

Using this study as a model, it is not difficult to understand why North Providence has had massive tax increases (17% in one year alone) and an inability to reduce a $10.5 million cumulative budget deficit without selling the Town’s future through the sale of deficit reduction bonds. Only through the elimination of the Town’s public corruption would North Providence be able to survive the bankruptcy status of another Rhode Island municipality fighting similar corruption scandals. President Woodrow Wilson, the father of American public administration, may have had this in mind when he said, “A leader’s ears must ring with the voices of the people.” Clearly, someone needed to take action to stop the corruption in North Providence!

Despite the evidence that public corruption carries a significant cost to the taxpayers, some people still refuse to condemn the corrupt acts or the people committing them. Evidence the reaction on the streets of North Providence as chronicled by Providence Journal reporters Mark Reynolds and John Hill in a June 5, 2011 article, dubbed by Arlene Violet as “the mentality of far too many Rhode Islanders”. The reporters interviewed Isabelle Corio, a retiree who happens to live on the same street as convicted former councilman Ray Douglas. This is how the Journal summarized her thinking. “Scheming is nothing new, and what the three councilmen did is not nearly as disturbing to her as last year’s hike in the car tax. ‘Now that,’ says Corio, ‘was an outrage. You know, those people hurt themselves, but they did not burden the taxpayers. They really didn’t.’” Ms. Corio fails to understand that the only reason such tax increases were successful at the Council level is because corrupt councilmembers were in the pocket of the mayor who proposed them.

Centredale barber, Tom Carcone, who considers himself a friend of John Zambarano, said, “I think corruption is a strong word, don’t you? It’s too bad. You never know what’s going through people’s heads until people get in certain situations, until they have the power to exercise their shortcomings.” 

Reynolds and Hill note that their random interviews revealed two themes. “First, it’s clear that few people are shocked by the thriving culture of corruption revealed by the FBI’s criminal probe. It’s also clear that their perspectives on the latest scandal are tempered by personal connections to the councilmen and by a sense that the men were simply following in the footsteps of their predecessors in North Providence politics.” 

University of Rhode Island Political Science Professor Maureen Moakley said that people must get angry about corruption before such activity will diminish. “You get the kind of politics you expect,” she told Hill and Reynolds. Former Governor and U.S. Attorney, Lincoln C. Almond, added, “The leadership of a community has to be on its toes. You never know who’s going to be honest and who is going to be corrupt.” 

The sentiments expressed by Moakley and Almond are supported in Dirty Little Secrets, a book written by social scientist Larry J. Sabato and journalist Glenn R. Simpson. The authors suggest that both the media and the public can stop corruption but only by exposing it and refusing to tolerate the corrupt activities. They place the blame for today’s state of affairs squarely on the American citizenry because taxpayers not only accept corruption but also are party to it as the “principal hand” that feeds it. They contend that “Corruption exists because we the people permit it, either by silence, inattention or misunderstanding. If the persistence of corruption in American politics is going to be reversed, the public – and their tribunes in the press – will have to demand it.” Only public anger, the authors suggest, will “start the motors of reform.” 

Without doubt my life has changed because of my actions. I was initially angry at my former Council colleagues for putting me in a position of either having to suborn their corrupt activities in violation of my fiduciary responsibility or turn them into authorities for their bribery and extortion scheme so as to ensure my own compliance with my oath of office. I pray for them and their families daily at Mass and hope that some good results from this experience. Clearly, if it dissuades others from a life of political crime and thereby helps to reduce the corruption in government, then it has all been worth it. Regardless, despite the difficulty the entire episode has caused me, my family and my community, it was the right thing to do and given the same choices tomorrow, with hindsight as my crystal ball into the future, I would make the same decisions.

The FBI corruption operation in North Providence ensnared three sitting councilmen, including the sitting Council president, one former Council president, one former town solicitor, an insurance consultant, a real estate developer, a strip club manager and a radio DJ. All but one acknowledged their crimes and indiscretions through guilty pleas. One maintained his innocence but was found guilty by a jury of his peers. The developer who acknowledged paying the money to the criminals, and his company, were exonerated. In all, the prison sentences totaled 289 months and one day and established new records for the longest individual sentences ever given for white-collar political corruption in Rhode Island. In addition, other investigations in which Frank Manfredi and I were involved elicited guilty pleas or verdicts in the case of a zoning board official and an Acting Finance Director at town hall. They paid substantial fines and penalties and one was forced to relinquish his position.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Joseph Burchfield was released from prison on March 20, 2015 after serving 46 months in a federal penitentiary. John Zambarano gained his freedom on February 11, 2015 after 45 months of incarceration. Bob Ciresi spent 54 months in federal prison before being released on March 31, 2016, and Raymond Douglas was released from prison in late 2016.

I am not naïve enough to believe that what I did for the FBI will alter human nature through the elimination of greed and avarice. I didn’t change the world, nor will my actions have a lasting effect on government in North Providence. Political corruption has been a fact of life on this earth for thousands of years before the new government of this nation was even a thought. Yet man has failed to learn the age-old lesson that crime just doesn't pay and each new generation of corrupt official believes that his corrupt scheme is foolproof. For that reason, history will most assuredly continue to repeat itself in virtually every political jurisdiction throughout the world. That pattern will grow exponentially with the growth of political influence until more people are willing to endure the hardships that cooperating with lawful authority brings. Perhaps that is the real tragedy here!

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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