A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a former North Providence town councilman to just less than six years in prison after he and two other former councilmen pleaded guilty to taking part in a bribery scheme.
John Zambarano and the other ex-councilmen – Joseph Burchfield and Raymond Douglas III – admitted earlier this year to soliciting bribes from local businessmen in exchange for favorable votes on zoning and licensing changes. Zambarano has also pleaded guilty to a separate insurance fraud scheme.
On Monday, Burchfield was sentenced to five years and four months in prison, while Douglas received 6 1/2 years. Douglas, who also pleaded guilty to collecting illegal gambling debts by extortion, and Zambarano received the maximum prison terms recommended by federal sentencing guidelines.
“Greed is never good. It is particularly offensive when it manifests itself in those who hold the public trust,” Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha said after the sentencing. The former councilmen “received stiff sentences, and those sentences are well deserved.”
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mary Lisi said Tuesday the message she intended the sentences to send was that “if you are a government official and you use the authority of your office to line your pockets and to engage in corrupt behavior, you lose a lot. … You will lose your liberty.”
Zambarano’s attorney, Thomas Briody, had asked Lisi to balance a message of deterrence with “some small measure of compassion.” Zambarano had suffered physical and mental health problems since his arrest, he said. Briody requested a sentence of five years and four months in prison – the same sentence given Burchfield.
After the sentencing, Briody called the punishment “very, very severe.”
“My client understands how serious this event is. He accepts responsibility and is ready to go forward with his life,” he said.
The bribery scheme orchestrated by Burchfield, Douglas and Zambarano netted $46,000 before they were arrested. The money came from two developers -one building a supermarket, the other hoping to convert a defunct mill into housing. The developers were never charged.
Two other bribes, solicited from a bar owner and a restaurant owner, were rebuffed.
A fourth councilman, Paul Caranci, supplied the crucial fourth vote on the seven-person North Providence town council. But prosecutors say he was cooperating from the outset with the FBI, whose agents were able to collect significant amounts of audio and other surveillance.
“Whenever honest and effective government administration is undermined by corrupt public officials, the FBI and its law enforcement partners will focus their efforts on those responsible for those actions,” said Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston field office, which oversees the bureau’s Rhode Island operations.
In the insurance fraud case, prosecutors say Zambarano conspired with local radio host Lori Sergiacomi, known on the air as Tanya Cruise; insurance adjuster Vincent DiPaolo; and former town council President Robert Ricci to damage Sergiacomi’s home and submit bogus insurance claims, with a payout totaling just over $40,000.