PROVIDENCE — Although attorney William Murphy tried to paint former Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau’s felony as a “victimless crime,” U.S. District Court Judge John McConnell declared that “public corruption has many victims” and sentenced Moreau to two years in federal prison.
Moreau was also fined $25,000, which the judge told the disgraced ex-mayor is “the amount of financial gain you received” from the crime. He was ordered to perform 300 hours of public service once he gets out of prison and he will remain under supervision for three years after his release.
Moreau must report to a yet-to-be-determined prison by March 4 at 2 p.m.
McConnell said the sentence he meted out “serves the ends of justice.”
Moreau, 49, pleaded guilty in November to one count of accepting a gratuity — a furnace for his home — from his friend Michael Bouthillette, 49, in exchange for giving Bouthillette a lucrative, no-bid “emergency” contract to board up foreclosed homes in the city. Between September, 2007 and July, 2009, Bouthillette boarded up at least 167 houses in Central Falls, prosecutors allege, charging the building owners more than $1 million.
Moreau, who was joined in the courtroom by his wife, Kristen, and other family members, told the judge that during his career he has helped many people in the city. “I’ve changed people’s lives forever,” he claimed.
“Whatever happens from here is in God’s hands,” the mayor said, adding “I ask for leniency.”
Standing on the courthouse steps after he learned his fate, Moreau acknowledged to reporters, “I did hurt the people of Central Falls and the reputation of the city and I apologize. I never intended to hurt anybody.
“Unfortunately, of all the good things I have done, I will be remembered for this bad thing. There was a lot going on in the city of Central Falls at the time, maybe I took my eye off the ball and I strayed over the line. A made a mistake and I take responsibility for it.”
Asked what he would say to the residents of Central Falls, Moreau answered, “hang in there, be strong and fight through this bankruptcy. Central Falls is a great little city that has some big city issues. But with the new leadership there, hopefully the state is out of their face in a little while and they can move on for themselves.”
“I have always loved Central Falls,” he said. “The people of Central Falls have been great to me.”
An hour later, Bouthelette faced McConnell and managed to avoid prison time, a result that surprised many onlookers.
He was sentenced to 3 years of probation, including 2,000 hours of community service to the residents of Central Falls – the equivalent of one year of fulltime work without pay - and a fine of $5,000. The court also ordered Bouthillette to provide the Rhode Island Foundation with a payment of $160,000 to establish an endowment of charitable funds for the residents of Central Falls for public safety, housing and education programs.
Bouthillette is also prohibited from collecting more than $275,000 in liens placed on properties for board-up work he performed for which he yet to be paid. The court ordered that Bouthillette turn over any other money he collects from the work to the city.
Bouthillette admitted that in March 2009, he assisted Moreau in obtaining a furnace for Moreau’s Central Falls residence for which Bouthillette admitted that he contributed at least a portion of the purchase price; Bouthillette admitted that, from March to November of 2009, he provided numerous renovations and repairs to a Lincoln residence owned by Moreau which Moreau never paid for; and Bouthillette admitted to the court that in April 2010, he provided flood remediation work at Moreau’s Lincoln home which Moreau never paid for. Moreau admitted to the court that he accepted each of these gratuities from Bouthillette.
Moreau had faced 21 to 27 months in prison and prosecutor Terrence Donnelly asked the judge to mete out the full 27 months. Bouthillette could have received between 15 and 21 months in prison according to federal sentencing guidelines.
“This is a case about arrogance,” Donnelly told the judge during Moreau’s hearing. “It is a classic case that it is who you know rather than what is best for the city when it comes to doling out city work.
Donnelly said Moreau acted as though “city jobs and contracts belonged to him.”
He said homes where people were still living were boarded up and their possessions were thrown in a dumpster. In some cases when realtors scrambled to board up properties themselves, the prosecutor said, the mayor and Bouthillette would order the boards torn down and Bouthilette re-boarded them.
When people questioned the mayor about what was going on, Donnelly said, they were told by Moreau to “mind your own bleeping business.” He said the mayor’s behavior “progressed to intimidation and people did mind their own business. Even the city’s legal department” did not challenge Moreau, Donnelly said.
Speaking on behalf of Moreau, Murphy, the former Speaker of the RI House of Representatives, said the former mayor was not involved in extortion, “this was not the Brinks robbery.”
Murphy claimed the board-up work was done for the “health, safety and welfare of the community.” The structures that were boarded up “were health hazards,” he said. “Some were stripped for copper, some were stripped for belongings, some of them became drug houses.
U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha and state Attorney General Peter Kilmartin were in the courtroom to hear the sentences handed out.
Afterwards, Neronha said, “Is it really that difficult to know how to or when to do the right thing? If someone is giving you something and you are not paying for it, if that doesn’t send up a red flag, I don’t know what does.” Directing his comments at other elected officials, the U.S. Attorney added, “Follow the law, uphold your oath, serve the people of the city or town or the state or federal government that you represent and don’t serve your own interests.”
In his own statement, Kilmartin said, “I consider this a good day for Central Falls, it is a bad episode they can put behind them.”
Gov. Lincoln Chafee sounded a similar theme.
Chafee Spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger said, “Rhode Island needs to send a message that corruption is unacceptable and that while these instances are unfortunate for the individuals they are good for Rhode Island, it shows that Rhode Island won’t tolerate corruption.”
Central Falls Mayor James Diossa said Moreau’s sentencing “brings to an end a sad chapter in our city's history.
“We must rededicate ourselves to building an honest and ethical city government that delivers city services to everyone equally, regardless of political affiliation or connection to City Hall,” Diossa added in a written statement. “We simply cannot go back to the mismanagement and corruption that plagued our city for years.”
Moreau was elected mayor in 2003 and served until September of last year, when he agreed to plead guilty to the corruption charge.