Town Council ex-president admits to fraud

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A former North Providence Town Council president on Wednesday pleaded guilty in federal court to an insurance fraud scheme involving a local radio personality.

Robert Ricci, 50, admitted in federal court in Providence to conspiring to damage the home of radio host Lori Sergiacomi after historic flooding hit Rhode Island in 2010. The payout totaled more than $40,000. Ricci, who is a home contractor, was not in office at the time. He is scheduled to be sentenced on August 25.

Sergiacomi, known on 105 Lite Rock as Tanya Cruise, is scheduled Thursday to plead guilty to taking part in the scheme. A call to the station was not immediately returned. Cruise is not listed on the 105 Lite Rock roster.

Ricci’s defense attorney C. Leonard O’Brien said he’s seeking a “reasonable sentence, but a lenient sentence.”

“He had a very minor role. Nonetheless he stepped up and has acknowledged responsibility,” O’Brien said after the hearing. “He’ll be back here in August to accept his punishment and in the meantime he’s going to do the very best he can to make up to the people, the state of Rhode Island and to his family for what he did and try to rebuild his life.”

Ricci was not accused of causing any damage to Sergiacomi’s home or receiving payments.

The other defendants are former North Providence Councilman John Zambarano, 48, and insurance adjuster Vincent DiPaolo, 61.

Ricci is charged with conspiracy and mail fraud. Prosecutors will recommend a sentence toward the low end of the range suggested by federal sentencing guidelines because he admitted his involvement, according to a plea agreement.

The charges stem from spring 2010, when Sergiacomi’s North Providence home was damaged during flooding that devastated much of the state, according to a November indictment. The indictment claims Sergiacomi did not have flood insurance and that Zambarano and DiPaolo advised her not to file a claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency because the agency would only offer her a loan. Moreover, they told Sergiacomi, a federal loan would not cover roof and swimming pool improvements she wanted to make, the indictment alleges.

Instead, prosecutors say Sergiacomi’s home was deliberately damaged to make look as if the damage was due to a wind and rain storm.

The insurance fraud was discovered during an investigation into a separate pay-to-play bribery and extortion scheme orchestrated by Zambarano and two other then-town councilmen, prosecutors said. Wiretaps caught Zambarano boasting over the phone about his handiwork, according to the indictment.

After pleading guilty to the insurance and corruption charges, Zambarano was sentenced last month to nearly six years in prison.

Ricci faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and up to 20 years on each of the five mail fraud charges. DiPaolo has denied the allegations. 

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