From There to Here
It began in early 2010 when Jim Hummel asked Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau if he had received a free furnace from a political contributor and contractor. Moreau's responses during that interview launched state and federal investigations into the mayor's administration, culminating Wednesday with Moreau and the contractor pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. This week the Hummel Report traces how Mayor Moreau went from a politician with an iron grip on his city, to a soon-to-convicted felon facing prison time.
Click HERE to watch the U.S. Attorney's Press Conference.
To see the federal charges and plea agreement, click HERE.
Ten months ago Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau needed the furnace in his house replaced. The bill – for $6,875 - didn’t go to the mayor, but to a longtime friend and campaign contributor, who at the time was doing tens of thousands of dollars of work for the city – work given to him by the mayor. This week we go straight to the mayor for an explanation.
We are back in Central Falls this week, where the heat is on City Hall. How and why did a close friend of the mayor’s get the inside track on boarding up foreclosed houses, making hundreds of thousands of dollars before the work even went out to bid? Jim Hummel learns the contractor – who is also a campaign contributor to the mayor - had the full force of City hall behind him…and now has the state police asking questions.
As the state police continue to investigate potential corruption at Central Falls City Hall, we sit down with Attorney General Patrick Lynch, a friend and political ally of Mayor Charles Moreau. The AG gives us his take on our series of stories, the investigation into Moreau's administration, Lynch's own public support in the past for the mayor and much more. Jim Hummel reports.
Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau is under fire for selling a piece of city-owned land to a political ally... for a dollar. The mayor convinced the City Council it would be good economic development, saying a local businessman planned to put up a brand new million-dollar building on the site. But we learned the businessman knows nothing about it and the mayor is nowhere to be found. This week, Jim Hummel goes to the City Council - which gave Moreau permission to sell the lot - for answers.
By day, Richard Aubin Jr. is the chief mechanic at his family's car repair business in Central Falls. But on the first Monday night of every month he trades his overalls for a suit - and a seat - as a councilman inside City Hall. That has not stopped him having a no-bid contract with the Police Department to service its vehicles. This week, Jim Hummel goes one-on-one with the councilman and takes us inside the numbers to see how much Aubin's family business has received from the city.
Last summer a Central Falls City Council candidate - and political rival of the mayor - was campaigning door-to-door when an unlicensed pit bull darted out from the back yard of a house in his district and bit him twice. This week Jim Hummel tries to find out how the pit bull (the breed is banned by ordinance in the city) suddenly received a license from City Hall, who may have been behind it and why the police won't get involved.
Retirement, as the saying goes, isn't always what it's cracked up to be. That's particularly true in the city of Central Falls. Last week, Jim Hummel called the police chief about a deal the chief made to ``retire'' and begin collecting a pension, while remaining on the job as chief, at a higher salary. Over the weekend, the chief put out a written press release reacting to our inquiry - but it didn't include all of the details. Now we have them, after Hummel sat down with Chief Moran for a wide-ranging interview about the deal and the public's perception of it.
The Wyatt Detention Center has generated millions of dollars for the city of Central Falls since it opened in 1993. But that money dried up a year and a half ago when a prisoner died in custody and the feds pulled some of their inmates. That led to Mayor Charles Moreau stepping in and shaking up management at a facility that had previously had a stellar track record. But have those moves been in the best interest of the taxpayers? This week Jim Hummel takes a closer look at how politics have infiltrated the prison.
Neronha: ``Earlier today, having concluded an extensive federal grand jury investigation, we file in federal court here in Providence, a two-county information charging Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau and businessman Michael Bouthillette....''
It was a day that many in Central Falls thought might never come.
U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha confirmed what we had first reported in early 2010.
Neronha: ``The allegations contained in the information paint a clear picture: that Mayor Moreau abused his public office, for his own economic benefit and for the benefit of his friend and political supporter Michael Bouthillette.''
It has been nearly three years since Mayor Charles Moreau's did an interview with The Hummel Report that would change his life - and eventually send him to prison.
Hummel: ``You had had a furnace installed at your house last spring? Did you get a new furnace?''
Hummel: ``Do you remember how much you paid for it?''
Moreau: ``No I don’t. Four grand?''
Hummel: ``Do you remember paying for it?''
Hummel: ``Because the tip we got was you didn't pay for that furnace.''
We may never know if that phone call was his secretary offering him a chance to bail out on our line of questioning. Moreau decided to continue the interview, prompting state and eventually federal investigators to move in.
In early 2010 our investigation showed that Moreau had received a free furnace from his childhood friend and political contributor Mike Bouthillette.
Moreau had given Bouthillette millions of dollars of lucrative board-up work on foreclosed houses in the city. The bill for the furnace went to Bouthillette, but Moreau insisted to us he had reimbursed him for the work.
Moreau: ``Yeah, well he put it in. He subbed out to GEM Plumbing and it’s paid for.''
Hummel: ``So you wrote him a check?''
Moreau: ``Paid him cash.''
Hummel: ``Paid him cash.''
Moreau: ``Um hmmm.''
Hummel: ``Do you usually pay people in cash, $4,000?''
Moreau: ``Well, whatever... the guy did the job that’s what I paid him.''
Hummel: ``He’s getting a city contract from you.
And in effect he paid for a furnace that went into your house.''
Moreau: ``He didn’t pay for a furnace that went into my house. The fact of the matter is he’s done work on many properties that I have, a property in Lincoln, I just had a water pipe break there that he’s done. Same thing.''
Within hours of the story running, the colonel of the Rhode Island State Police at the time, Brendan Doherty, contacted The Hummel Report, saying he was launching his own investigation - based on our furnace revelations. Within a matter of months, Doherty asked the feds to join in.
Hummel: ``Why did he feel that he needed the U.S. Attorney's office assistance? Was it the nature of the charges, was it manpower, what was it?''
Neronha: ``Well, you'd have to speak to him, but I think, we're always best served in this state, and perhaps Supt. Doherty recognized it, when the U.S. Attorney's office and the Attorney General's office and the state police and other law enforcement agencies work collaborative rather than independently, it's the best way to proceed. So he deserves credit for that.''
For months investigators had also been hearing complaints about exorbitant costs for boards up on the foreclosed houses.
While the state police set up shop in City Hall, the Hummel Report continued its own coverage - running a dozen stories related to Moreau and Central Falls over the next several months.
From the lucrative board up work that Moreau gave Bouthillette under what he called the city's emergency powers.
Hummel: ``Why did you contribute to his campaign?''
Lynch: ``Because I believe in his leadership.''
To a wide-ranging interview with then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch, a friend and political supporter of Moreau's, who had been accused of looking the other way on complaints about the mayor. Lynch abruptly ended his run for governor a few months later.
Poulin: ``The mayor runs the city and does, as far as I'm concerned, whatever he pleases to do. If someone gets in his way, he rolls right over them.''
Longtime Moreau critic Edna Poulin recounted to us how the mayor convinced the city council to sell an American Legion post to one of Moreau's political contributors for a dollar - instead of putting the $140,000 building out to bid. Moreau sold the council, telling them the owner planned to build an addition next to his meat market - something we found was news to the market owner.
Gallo: ``We learned there was a new rule - recently established - that any time I asked for a simple repair it was not to be approved unless I went to the mayor.''
In the summer of 2010 our investigation revealed how the mayor meddled in the rehabilitation of some of the city's school buildings, freezing the superintendent out of the process.
Moran: ``I'm not going to cower down to some pressure because some people are not happy with a decision like this here.''
Another Hummel Report investigation uncovered a sweetheart retirement deal for Moreau's police chief at the time Joseph Moran - a deal that a state receiver eventually revoked.
And that receiver, retired Superior Court judge Mark Pfeiffer, said Moreau's budgeting left a lot to be desired, one of the reasons the city fell into bankruptcy under the mayor's watch.
Pfeiffer: ``The budgeting that had taken place here, we found in many instances it was something that was not really thought through - was simply put together to fulfill the requirement. Obviously if the budget had been a good budget for the last fiscal year, we wouldn't be looking at the deficit: that we're going to have when we close out 2010.''
The U.S. Attorney said he wants today's announcement to send a message.
Neronha: ``This is yet another version of the it's-who-you-know story. And nothing creates more cynicism about our government and those that represent us, in cases such as this. Government business should only be, it must only be, conducted on a level playing field. It should go without saying that as an elected official Mayor Moreau owed the city of Central Falls a duty to conduct the business of the city impartially. Instead, he conducted the business of government to benefit his friend and political support and ultimately himself. He violated his oath to the people of Central Falls. That has brought him down today. And deservedly so.
Jim Hummel For the Hummel Report.