3 in R.I. charged with bribery
PROVIDENCE — The North Providence town council president and two councilmen were arrested yesterday on charges they shared a $25,000 bribe paid by a developer who wanted them to approve a zoning change to build a Stop & Shop supermarket.
Federal complaints unsealed yesterday accuse Council President Joseph Burchfield and Councilmen John A. Zambarano and Raymond L. Douglas III of accepting the bribe in February 2009 from an unnamed developer. Zambarano took the bribe the night the council approved the zoning change 7-0, then split the money up, prosecutors said.
The councilmen were charged in US District Court with one count each of extortion and accepting a bribe. They did not enter pleas and were ordered released on unsecured bond.
Burchfield’s lawyer, Mark Dana, and Zambarano’s lawyer, Tom Briody, said their clients maintained their innocence.
“These are brand new allegations,’’ Briody said. “We’re just trying to deal with them as best as we can.’’
No one but the three was charged, but US Attorney Peter Neronha said the investigation is ongoing.
The town council has seven members, and it was not immediately clear what effect the arrests would have. The council meets the first Tuesday of every month; its duties include overseeing zoning changes and hearing such issues as liquor licensing in the town of about 33,000 residents.
The affidavit written by an FBI agent in support of arrest warrants for the three men says federal authorities were tipped off to the scheme after a city official overheard Zambarano telling Burchfield and Douglas in November 2008 that he hoped the Stop & Shop deal would go through soon because he wanted the money before Christmas.
The official told a town councilman, who then acted as a confidential informant for federal investigators. The councilman is not identified, but the affidavit says that on Feb. 9, 2009, he called Zambarano to ask for a cut of the money. Later that day, in a recorded conversation, Zambarano tells him he’ll receive $4,000 if he votes their way, the affidavit says. “If you go along with the show and go along with everything we’ll give you $4,000,’’ he said, according to the affidavit.
Zambarano told the informant the developer had told him, “You deliver four votes, and I’ll give you $25,000,’’ and that there might be more money coming because the developer had plans for other projects, according to the papers.
The developer “told me he might want to put an Applebee’s or Chili’s in the parking lot,’’ Zambarano said, according to the papers. “He said we’re going to need a liquor license.’’
The next night, the zoning change passed.
After the vote, the FBI followed Zambarano to a parking lot, where he met the developer’s lawyer, and the next day Zambarano delivered $4,000 in cash to the informant, prosecutors said.
Thomas Caldarone, president of a neighboring condo association that had opposed the project before the town council, said yesterday that he remembers nothing unusual about the process.
“I was not particularly alerted to any irregularity. They did what they were supposed to do,’’ said Caldarone, a retired state Superior Court judge. “It didn’t appear that the situation was preordained or anything like that.’’
Mayor Charles Lombardi did not return several phone messages seeking comment yesterday.
Councilman Mansuet Giusti said in an interview that it was not good “when the FBI’s arresting half your council . . . It’s embarrassing for the town.’’