Former Rhode Island Town Councilman Admits Taking Bribes

By Ian MacDougall | March 3, 2011

A former North Providence town councilman has pleaded guilty to corruption charges, admitting he solicited tens of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for votes to approve zoning changes as well as his role in an unrelated insurance fraud scheme.

Zambarano helped orchestrate a pay-to-play scheme that lasted over a year and a half and included a payment of $25,000 from a developer who sought a change in zoning so he could build a supermarket, federal prosecutors said.

“These guilty pleas mark a significant step forward in this ongoing corruption investigation,” said Peter F. Neronha, the U.S. attorney for Rhode Island.

Zambarano entered his plea in U.S. District Court in Providence. Fellow ex-councilmen Joseph Burchfield and Raymond Douglas III pleaded guilty Monday to taking part in the bribery scheme. A North Providence developer, Edward Imondi, also pleaded guilty Monday to charges he facilitated one of the bribes. A fifth man, attorney Robert Ciresi, has pleaded not guilty to charges he acted as a middleman in the scheme.

Zambarano and his lawyer declined to comment on the plea.

Prosecutors say Zambarano, Burchfield and Douglas also requested a $75,000 bribe — receiving only $21,000 before their arrests — from a developer who wanted to convert a defunct mill into housing and attempted to extort thousands of dollars more from the owner of a restaurant who wanted to extend his business hours. The restaurant owner rebuffed the councilmen’s proposition.

The North Providence town council consists of seven people. Zambarano, Burchfield, Douglas and an unidentified fourth councilman, who prosecutors say joined the scheme as a cooperating witness for the FBI, controlled approval of licensing and zoning requests with four votes among them.

Zambarano and the other councilmen pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery and extortion charges. In exchange for pleas from the men, prosecutors have agreed to recommend a slight reduction in their sentences.

Each man faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge. Bribery and extortion carry sentences of up to 10 years and 20 years in prison, respectively. Zambarano, Burchfield and Douglas also agreed to jointly forfeit $46,000, the amount of the bribes they received.

The men remain free on bond pending sentencing in May.

Zambarano also pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy and mail fraud charges stemming from his role in an unrelated insurance fraud scheme.

In the insurance case, prosecutors say Zambarano conspired with local radio host Lori Sergiacomi, known on the air as Tonya Cruise; insurance adjuster Vincent DiPaolo; and former town council President Robert Ricci to damage Sergiacomi’s home and submit bogus insurance claims, with the payout totaling just over $40,000.

Zambarano agreed to forfeit the amount of the insurance claim. Mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Sergiacomi, DiPaolo and Ricci have pleaded not guilty.

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