JANUARY 26, 2007
Rhode Island’s political establishment has been hit by a cloud of fraud and corruption that has exposed an ongoing influence-peddling ring starring public figures and the well-to-do executives that have for years bribed them.
The widespread ring has kept the state’s ethics commission quite busy and the federal courts occupied with trials, hearings and arraignments related to the scams which have undoubtedly cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
The saga began a few years ago when Rhode Island Senator John Celona got busted for taking bribes from companies in exchange for his influence in advancing their legislative agendas. The proof was so overwhelming that the Rhode Island Ethics Commission fined Celona $130,000 and the disgraced lawmaker pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges. Next week he will be sentenced and his future home is sure to be a prison cell.
In an adjacent federal courtroom, two of the drugstore chain executives who bribed him will be arraigned on charges of conspiracy, fraud and bribery. The CVS pharmacy executives paid Celona thousands of dollars to thwart legislation deemed harmful to CVS and advance measures considered favorable to the pharmacy giant.
Other corruption cases have surfaced like weeds in Rhode Island. The state ethics commission is investigating former Senate President William Irons for his role in the Celona scam as well as current Senate President Joseph Montalbano for purposely hiding income for legal work that included clearing titles on land near the proposed Indian casino then voting on casino legislation.
The ongoing public scams in this tiny state have led to new disclosure requirements that expose previously secret financial relationships between lawmakers and corporations. Among the more interesting disclosures is a company promoting an automated system to catch speeders that paid former House Judiciary Chairman Robert Flaherty $7,500 and an insurance company that paid one state legislator $37,510 and another $16,716.
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