Two Defendants Spared Prison in Rhode Island Insurance Scheme

August 29, 2011

A federal judge on Thursday spared an ex-Rhode Island radio host and a former North Providence politician prison time for their roles in a $40,000 home insurance fraud scheme.

Chief Judge Mary M. Lisi sentenced former WWLI-FM host Lori Sergiacomi, 49, to four months in a Massachusetts halfway house and four months of home confinement for purposefully having her North Providence home damaged after last year’s historic flooding as part of a scheme to bilk her insurance company.

Earlier in the day, the judge ordered Robert Ricci, 50, to spend four months in home confinement for his role in the fraud. Ricci was hired by Sergiacomi to repair her roof after it was purposefully damaged to look like it had been hit by a rain and wind storm. Ricci is a former North Providence Town Council president. He was not in office at the time of the scheme.

The judge said that unlike Ricci, Sergiacomi was at the center of the scheme and had the most to gain. She said Sergiacomi should have tossed co-defendants John Zambarano, 48, and Vincent DiPaolo, 62, out on the street. The two were convicted in the case, accused of suggesting Sergiacomi purposefully let her house be damaged and file a fraudulent insurance claim.

“Instead of throwing them out of your house, you became an active participant,” Lisi said.

Sergiacomi, who was known on the radio as Tanya Cruise, apologized, calling recent months a “personal hell.” She said what she did was the “biggest mistake of my life.”

“I sincerely want you to know that I take full responsibility for my actions,” said Sergiacomi, who occasionally dabbed her eyes with tissue during the hearing. “I am truly, truly sorry.”

Lisi also ordered Sergiacomi to pay more than $40,000 in restitution, a $2,000 fine, submit to electronic monitoring while she is in home confinement and complete 200 hours of community service. She must report to the McGrath House in Boston on Sept. 22. The eight months of community and home confinement are part of a three-year probation sentence.

In sentencing Ricci, the judge said he had “already suffered tremendously” and provided her a letter that was “refreshing” because he took responsibility for his conduct.

“You made a very poor choice by getting on the train with these people. You paid for it dearly,” Lisi said.

Ricci, who lost his state job and saw his reputation ruined, said he was sorry.

“I want to apologize for what I did. I was wrong,” Ricci said. “I have no excuse whatsoever. … I only have myself to blame.”

He also must pay $1,000 in restitution and do 200 hours of community service.

Zambarano, a former North Providence town councilman, was sentenced in May to nearly six years in prison on the insurance and corruption charges. DiPaolo, an ex-insurance adjuster, will be sentenced on Oct. 27.

Prosecutors wanted Ricci and Sergiacomi to each spend four months in prison.

The charges stem from spring 2010 when flooding devastated much of the state. Prosecutors say 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 that a federal loan would not cover roof and swimming pool improvements she wanted to make, prosecutors say.

Sergiacomi’s insurance claim said the damage was due to a storm April 5, 2010, but the National Weather Service reported fair weather in the Providence area that day with temperatures in the 70s.

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, prosecutors said.

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