PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Trial begins Tuesday for a well-known developer accused of paying a $50,000 bribe in a case that already has sent three North Providence town councilmen to prison.
Richard P. Baccari and his development company, Churchill & Banks, have pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery and conspiracy in U.S. District Court in Providence. They were indicted a year ago and accused of paying off the councilmen to ensure they would approve a zoning change so the company could build a Stop & Shop supermarket.
The case first came to light in 2010 with the indictments of the three town councilmen: John Zambarano, Raymond L. Douglas III and Joseph Burchfield, then the town council president. Later that year, additional charges were brought against Robert Ciresi, a lawyer who worked for Baccari. He was accused of being the middleman who delivered the bribe money to Zambarano in a parking lot in 2009.
The councilmen ultimately pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, extortion and bribery in 2011. Ciresi went to trial, and a jury convicted him of conspiracy, bribery and extortion. All four are serving prison terms. Another man pleaded guilty to facilitating a bribe for a different development.
Lawyers for Baccari and his company have previously argued to U.S. District Judge John McConnell that the charges against them should be dismissed because they are accused of having the money extorted from them under threat of “economic duress.”
“All that the government’s evidence could possibly show is that the defendants reluctantly acquiesced to the councilmen’s extortionate demands,” lawyers John Mitchell and Anthony Cardinale wrote in a motion to dismiss the charges.
Judge McConnell denied the motion, as well as other attempts to get the case thrown out.
Prosecutors have said Zambarano met sometime around October 2008 with Baccari and Ciresi at the office of Churchill & Banks and asked for a $25,000 bribe.
Ciresi told a grand jury that Zambarano later called him and indicated he wanted to double the amount of the payoff to $50,000, according to Ciresi’s grand jury testimony cited in filings made by the defense. He said he passed the information on to Baccari, who said he would let him know later of his decision.
“Subsequently he called - I don’t know if we met or he called, and he said that he would pay the 50,” Ciresi told the grand jury.
Ciresi then delivered the money to Zambarano in February 2009, hours after the town council voted to pass the zoning change. Prosecutors have said Ciresi met Zambarano in a parking lot and delivered $46,000 cash, keeping $4,000 for himself.
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