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Providence Mayor Is Found Corrupt

Trial: Vincent A. 'Buddy' Cianci Jr. is convicted of racketeering conspiracy, but the jury acquits him on 11 remaining counts. He plans to stay in office.

June 25, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Vincent A. Cianci Jr., this city's brash and long-serving mayor, was convicted Monday of conspiring to turn City Hall into a virtual shopping center where power and influence were up for sale.

After seven weeks of testimony and nine days of deliberation, a federal jury found the 61-year-old mayor guilty of a single count of racketeering conspiracy, while acquitting him on the 11 remaining charges.

The jury found that Cianci and two co-defendants concocted and ran an elaborate scheme to solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for city jobs and political favors. But Cianci was found not guilty of directly accepting bribes or extorting cash.

The single conviction could bring him up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Cianci's fate as mayor appeared cloudy. Immediately after the verdict, the state attorney general issued an opinion permitting Cianci to remain in office until he is sentenced, on Sept. 6, though the City Council could seek to remove him sooner. The mayor has said repeatedly that he intends to seek a seventh term in November.

The normally voluble mayor received the verdict with no display of emotion. Cianci--known universally here by his childhood nickname, Buddy--left without commenting to a crowd assembled outside the courthouse.

But at a City Hall news conference later, Cianci enumerated the charges on which he was acquitted.

"I can tell you that there is one charge remaining and I will continue to fight to preserve my innocence," said the mayor, who also told jokes and playfully praised the press corps for showing up in such large numbers.

Prosecutor Richard Rose left the court smiling but refused to comment.

Cianci's conviction disappointed James Siedzik, 19, who kept a steady vigil Monday in Kennedy Plaza, across from the court.

"Everyone is looking for a reason to pick on him when he has done so much for the city and the state," said Siedzik, a telemarketer.

But Avedis Bedizian, 75, said he was sorry the verdict wasn't harsher.

"The guy has been running a criminal enterprise out of City Hall," said the retired map maker. "There is no question the guy is up to here in everything."

Cianci did not testify, and throughout the long trial he stayed at the helm of the once-seedy municipality that he personally re-christened "the Renaissance City." He socialized, was a guest on national radio broadcasts and wasted no opportunity to promote his own brand of spaghetti sauce, The Mayor's Own.

He has insisted that he plans to run in November for a fourth consecutive term, and a Brown University poll released as the jury began deliberations suggested that with a 59% approval rating, victory likely would be no problem.

At his news conference, Cianci said he was focusing on what to say at a high school graduation Monday evening--not whether he would file reelection papers by Wednesday's deadline.

He did vow, however, to "keep every option open."

State law and city ordinance conflict over procedures for removing an elected official convicted of a felony. The Providence City Council was expected to hold an emergency meeting today to determine whether--or when--to call for Cianci's resignation.

But Gov. Lincoln Almond, a former U.S. attorney, issued his own call Monday for the mayor to step down.

"I think the time has come to say the capital city cannot stand this type of corruption," said Almond, a Republican. "Enough is enough."

Cianci, too, was a Republican when first elected in 1974. His first two terms were tainted by the extortion and fraud convictions of 22 city workers, and in 1984 Cianci left office under a cloud after pleading no contest to beating his estranged wife's lover with a fireplace log.

During his five-year suspended sentence he established himself as the city's most popular radio talk show host, returning to office in 1991 as an independent.

All the while, Cianci took full credit for transforming a grimy, northeastern industrial city into a glittering hub of culture and commerce. Among other accomplishments, Cianci rerouted a river and introduced $300 million in transportation improvements.

But a federal investigation known as Operation Plunder Dome charged that Cianci profited handsomely from the urban face-lift. Prosecutors accused Cianci and his top aides of turning Providence into a "city for sale," squeezing bribes out of citizens seeking jobs, tax breaks and city contracts.

No direct evidence linked Cianci to the extortion. But tow truck drivers took the stand to describe illegal contributions to Cianci's campaign fund. A mother told the court she paid $5,000 to get her son a job on the police force. A man testified he paid $5,000 to land a $9-an-hour temporary city job.

Defense attorneys said the contributions were voluntary.

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