The case was the second recent action by federal prosecutors against officials in small Northeast cities. Earlier, this month, officials charged the mayor of Trenton, N.J., his brother and an associate with corruption in connection with a parking garage project.
The Rhode Island case involves Mayor Charles Moreau and a friend, businessman Michael Bouthillette, each of whom have agreed to plead guilty to federal corruption charges, U.S. Atty. Peter F. Neronha announced at a news conference Wednesday. Neronha was joined by Rhode Island Atty. Gen. Peter F. Kilmartin and Col. Steven G. O’Donnell, superintendent of the state police.
Beginning in 2007, Moreau directed that all vacated homes in Central Falls be boarded up and that all such work be done by Bouthillette, officials said. According to court documents, the mayor circumvented state bidding requirements by declaring that each vacant home was an emergency situation.
At least 167 homes were boarded up and Bouthillette made profits of hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the charges.
In exchange, Bouthillette on three occasions gave Moreau things of value, including at least a portion of the cost of a furnace for the mayor’s former home in Cedar Falls. Bouthillette also provided renovations, repairs and flood remediation work at a Lincoln, R.I., residence owned by Moreau, according to officials.
Central Falls, a densely populated city of about 19,000, filed for bankruptcy in August 2011 because of financial difficulties including a deficit of about $6 million on an annual budget of $16 million. The city was also hit hard by property foreclosures, decreased state aid and problems with funding pensions and benefits.
The city is being run by a receiver, whose role Moreau unsuccessfully fought in court. A federal judge this month signed off on a five-year recovery plan for the city which sets a path for a return to elected government. Moreau, first elected in 2003, had been expected to run again.
In Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, Mayor Tony Mack, his brother, Ralphiel, and a political supporter -- convicted sex offender Joseph Giorgianni -- are accused of conspiring to obstruct, delay and affect interstate commerce by extortion.
Authorities said the defendants received $54,000 and anticipated accepting another $65,000 from a cooperating witness who identified himself as a developer wanting to build a parking garage in the city.
According to court documents, Giorgianni is heard in wiretapped conversations as saying, “One thing about the Mack administration, when I say that, it's me and Mack, we're not greedy. We're corruptible. We want anybody to make a buck.”