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September 13, 2006
Celona takes the stand in hospital corruption trial
PROVIDENCE -- Former state Sen. John A. Celona took the stand this afternoon in the Roger Williams Medical Center corruption trial and described how he lobbied on the hospital’s behalf nine years ago in hopes of getting a job.
And he was rewarded, he testified, when then-hospital president Robert Urciuoli promised to find him a position at the hospital, assigning the task to former vice president Frances Driscoll.
Urciuoli and Driscoll are charged, along with Peter Sangermano, with conspiring to steal Celona’s honest services as a state senator. Celona was hired in 1998 as a consultant to the Village at Elmhurst, an assisted-living center jointly owned by Roger Williams and a Sangermano company.
Celona’s long-awaited testimony drew a gaggle of lawyers for other companies and individuals that remain under investigation regarding Celona’s dealings with the CVS drugstore chain and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.
Celona, who has pleaded guilty to corruption charges and is cooperating with the government, told the jury how he lobbied for Roger Williams in 1997 during a heated legislative debate over the nonprofit hospital’s attempts to merge with a for-profit hospital chain from Tennessee, Columbia HCA.
Celona, a longtime senator from North Providence who resigned in 2004, said that he supported Roger Williams partly because the leader of a rival Senate faction favored it.
But another prime consideration, testified Celona, was that he needed and wanted a job at Roger Williams. His family lawnmower business was failing, he said, and he had sent out hundreds of resumes for a new job to support his family, to no avail.
-- Journal staff writer Mike Stanton
During the same period, in 1997, Roger Williams was mounting an extensive lobbying campaign over its attempted merger. Celona said that he began meeting and talking regularly with Urciuoli regarding two topics – Celona’s efforts to lobby on behalf of Roger Williams, and "my prospective job" with the hospital.
"I flipped a couple of senators," testified Celona, explaining that he convinced them to change their vote to support Roger Williams.
Shortly after the merger failed to muster legislative support, Celona said, he visited Urciuoli at Roger Williams to talk about "my job." Urciuoli, said Celona, praised the senator’s lobbying efforts and told him, "I’m going to try to find something for you."
Although Urciuoli initially said that he would try to find a position for Celona at the hospital, Celona testified, he was subsequently called to a meeting with Driscoll and a Roger Williams lawyer at Elmhurst Extended Care, the hospital’s nursing home.
Celona said that Driscoll handed him pamphlets and brochures for the Village at Elmhurst and pointed out the window, across the parking lot, to the adjacent assisted-living center, saying that he would get a position there as a consultant.
At this point, Celona testified, neither Urciuoli nor Driscoll had ever said anything to him about what his duties might be. At his meeting with Driscoll, Celona said, "She asked me to come up with something" regarding what duties he should perform.
At that point, court ended for the day. Celona, who will be back on the stand tomorrow, and probably longer, was on the stand for about an hour today.
He spoke expansively about his long political career, which began when he was a student at Providence College in the 1970s, and about his family’s various businesses growing up – often so expansively that the judge asked the prosecutor to narrow his questions and Urciuoli’s lawyer, Richard M. Egbert, frequently objected.
-- Journal staff writer Mike Stanton
2 witnesses say they did not know Celona was consultant
Posted 1:08 p.m.
PROVIDENCE -- Two former marketing employees for The Village at Elmhurst testified in federal court today that while they crossed paths with John A. Celona, they were never told that he was a paid consultant to the assisted-living center, nor did they ever work with him to promote the center.
Lisa Hawthorne and Lori Zito worked for Village Retirement Communities, which operates a series of senior living and assisted living centers. One of those, The Village At Elmhurst, was in partnership with Roger Williams Medical Center.
They took the stand in the third day of the Roger Williams Medical Center corruption trial in U.S. District Court.
Hawthorne testified that she was introduced to Celona at a function at Village Retirement Communities' corporate office but wasn't told that he was a paid consultant. He did not report to her and was not paid out of her marketing budget.
Shortly after their meeting, Hawthorne said, she met with Celona at his State House office and then appeared on his cable-access television show to talk about her company's assisted-living centers in Rhode Island. But she said she viewed Celona as someone else in the community, not a paid employee.
Zito, the former director of community relations, followed Hawthorne to the stand. She testified that she gave Celona a tour of the Village at Elmhurst but was unaware that he was a paid consultant. She viewed his interest as that of a state senator with contacts among the elderly in North Providence, an area from which the assisted-living center was trying to recruit residents from.
The defense was set to cross-examine Zito after the lunch break. Then, after one more witness, Celona is scheduled to take the stand, either late today or tomorrow.
Get more background on the trial from today's Journal report.
The prosecution contends that while Celona, then a state senator, was hired as a consultant at the Village, he never actually did much work there. In reality, the prosecution argues, he was paid to use his public office to to the hospital's bidding.
Lisa Hawthorne said that she didn't know Celona was a paid consultant until she read about it in the newspaper. "I remember saying to my husband, 'Wow, he's making $700 a week at the Village at Elmhurst,' '' she testified.
-- Journal staff writer Mike Stanton
Posted by Steve Peoples at 5:55 PM
3 hospitalized after contact with 'powdery substance' in mail
PROVIDENCE -- Three people have been hospitalized with itchy, rash-like symptoms after receiving a letter in the mail containing a "light, powdery substance."
Fire and police officials responded to 42 Oriental St. at around 4 p.m., according to James Taylor, Fire Department chief of communications. The address is listed as the site of Gem Label & Tape Co., but it was not clear if the people were at the company.
A woman at that address received a piece of mail that she believed was a check. When she opened the letter, she discovered a "light, powdery substance in there and she started to itch, get a rash," Taylor said.
Two other people immediately reported similar symptoms, and the authorities were called. A special hazards team "double bagged" the substance, Taylor said, while rescue crews transported three people to Rhode Island Hospital.
The state Department of Health has been called to the scene to investigate.
Posted by Steve Peoples at 5:19 PM
Six local candidates ask for primary recounts
PROVIDENCE -- After losing by margins ranging from one vote to 94, six primary candidates around Rhode Island have asked the state Board of Elections to recount the results of their races.
State law required candidates to request a recount by today at 4 p.m.
Four of the candidates asking for a second look are Democratic hopefuls in Providence City Council races.
Ward 8 contender Wilbur Jennings asked for a recount today after apparently losing by 10 votes to Leon Tejada, who earned 27.75 percent of the vote to Jennings’ 27.06 percent, according to unofficial results from the state Board of Elections.
Carol Romano, the incumbent councilwoman in Ward 4, apparently lost to Nicholas Narducci by 28 votes. She also asked for a recount today.
In the Ward 10 primary, Pedro Espinal wants to double check the numbers after the tally showed he lost to incumbent Luis Aponte by 15 votes. And Sabina Matos, a candidate in the Ward 15 race, wants a recount as well after coming in behind incumbent Josephine Diruzzo by 94 votes.
Outside of Providence, just one vote separated the race for the second of two Republican Exeter School Committee nominations. The unofficial count from the Board of Elections gave 387 votes for Chairwoman Susan DeSack and 386 votes for incumbent Paul R. McFadden, who requested a recount today.
And Pawtucket City Council District 3 incumbent Albert Joseph Vitali has asked for a recount after losing by 58 votes to Henry Kinch.
The recounts have been tentatively scheduled at the state Board of Elections Friday at noon.
-- projo.com staff writer Steve Peoples
When asked, the state will recheck the "memory packs" from each district in races decided by less than 2 percent of the local races. (Rhode Islanders vote using a computerized ballot-scanning system.)
Election law requires the state to manually re-feed the ballots into optical scanning machines if the margin of victory is less than one half of 1 percent after the initial memory pack recount.
For unoffical results from the state Board of Elections for races statewide, go to: http://projo.com/extra/election/
-- projo.com staff writer Steve Peoples
Posted by Steve Peoples at 4:55 PM
Update: Suspect in Woonsocket girl's murder held / Photo
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Joshua Davis, center, stands before Judge Jeffrey A. Lanphear today, with defense lawyer John Hardiman of the Public Defender's Office at left, and prosecutor Bethany Macktaz of the Attorney General's Office at right.
PROVIDENCE -- A 21-year-old Woonsocket man was ordered held without bail today during his arraignment on charges that he kidnapped, molested and murdered an 8-year-old neighbor in May.
Joshua A. Davis, 21, of 564 Coe St. No. 2, pleaded not guilty in Superior Court to one count of murder, one count of first-degree child molestation and one count of kidnapping a minor.
An indictment returned Aug. 25 alleges that on or about May 7, Davis murdered Savannah Smith, in Cranston. Davis has been in custody since the Woonsocket police arrested him May 8 on a murder charge.
The prosecution will seek a sentence of life in prison without parole if Davis is convicted, Bethany Mactaz, an assistant attorney general, said in court.
Members of Savannah Smith's family attended the brief arraignment.
-- With reports from Journal staff writer Cynthia Needham
Posted by Jack Perry at 4:32 PM
More underwater blasts tomorrow at old Jamestown span
NORTH KINGSTOWN -- Four more underwater piers of the old Jamestown Bridge are scheduled for demolition tomorrow afternoon.
The state Department of Transportation officials say they are coordinating this detonation with the ebb tide to minimize impacts on the environment.
Motorists on the nearby Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge will experience minor delays during the detonations, which are scheduled for 2:15 p.m.
Detonations are expected through next month to complete the process of taking down the bridge. Its center truss was demolished in April, and several piers have already been destroyed in previous blastings.
-- projo.com and wire reports
Posted by Steve Peoples at 4:02 PM
Former casino outfit sues Narragansetts for $10M
SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- The shareholders of a former casino company that once partnered with the Narragansett Indian Tribe have gone to court seeking $10 million from the tribe.
The shareholders of the former Capital Gaming International Inc. say that the tribe’s promised cut from new video slot machines at Lincoln Park triggers an agreement the tribe had made with the gambling company in 2001.
That agreement states that if the tribe moves forward with another gambling project in Rhode Island, it must first pay back Capital for development expenses the company incurred here.
From 1993 to 1999 Capital Gaming was working with the tribe to bring a casino to Rhode Island. In the fall of 1999, the tribe dropped the financially ailing Phoenix, Ariz., company in favor of a new partner, Boyd Gaming Corp., of Las Vegas. The tribe later dropped Boyd for its current partner, Harrah’s Entertainment.
Capital Gaming threatened legal action if the tribe did not make arrangements to repay $9.9 million in "development loans" and buy out its management contract. The two sides reached a settlement on April 2, 2001.
That agreement stated that 60 days after the opening of any Rhode Island gambling facility to which the tribe was "directly or indirectly" involved, the tribe would have to start paying back $10 million plus interest.
Last year, state lawmakers gave Lincoln Park permission to add 1,750 slot machines to the 3,002 that already existed. About 600 of those extra machines have gone online and the dog-racing track is undergoing a massive expansion to make room for the rest. As part of that deal, the Narragansetts were given 5 percent of the revenues from those new machines.
-- Journal staff writer Scott Mayerowitz
On July 19, Governor Carcieri’s administration told the tribe that it was ready to make the first payment to the tribe: $392,547.
But the tribe's lawyer, Jack Killoy, at the time denounced the "opportunistic check" as the latest in Carcieri's "long-time effort to undermine the tribe's casino effort which benefits all Rhode Islanders with jobs and economic opportunities."
Capital Gaming’s shareholders, through an Illinois limited-liability corporation -- CGI-NIT -- filed suit yesterday in Washington County Superior Court seeking the money.
As of this afternoon, the tribe had not officially responded to the governor’s office and no money has been transferred, according to Carcieri’s spokesman Jeff Neal.
On Nov. 7 voters will be asked to amend the state’s Constitution to allow the tribe and Harrah’s to build a casino in West Warwick.
-- Journal staff writer Scott Mayerowitz
Posted by Steve Peoples at 3:14 PM
Update: $1.5M to help low-income citizens with energy bills
PROVIDENCE -- Low-income Rhode Islanders will be able to draw on a $1.5 million pool of money to help pay off outstanding heating bills before the cold winter months.
The funds have been released by the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
“I am pleased that these funds have been released to us now,” Governor Carcieri said in a statement today. The state Office of Energy Resources will distribute funds to families after they apply.
“This money will enable us to help pay for service restoration to low-income families whose heating service has been shut-off for lack of payment," Carcieri said.
A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., added that Reed and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, led the effort in the Senate to increase funding this year for the energy-assistance program to a record $3.2 billion, up $1 billion over the previous year and the highest funding level in the program’s 25-year history.
Last winter, 29,000 low-income Rhode Island families received heating assistance grants.
Posted by Steve Peoples at 2:57 PM
A tired Laffey tries to regroup
CRANSTON - - Mayor Stephen Laffey usually stops by the Caffe Bon-Ami early mornings before heading to work in City Hall half a mile down the road.
The day after he lost a hard-found Republican U.S. senate primary race to incumbent Lincoln Chafee was no different, shop owner Malcolm Najarian said.
Laffey pulled up in front of the shop with his driver at 6:30 a.m. today, his usual time. But he looked disheveled and tired, Najarian said.
"You can see the weary eyes of a man who put everything on the line and left no stone unturned," Najarian said.
-- Chelsea Phua, the Associated Press
After his loss, Laffey said last night he would return to work the next day as Mayor of Cranston, where he still has four months left on his term.
Paul Grimes, Cranston's director of administration, said he'd spoken to the mayor several times today on city matters. Even during the campaign, Laffey never stopped working as the city's mayor, Grimes said. But now he will be refocusing his energy on wrapping up the rest of his term.
Nachama Soloveichik, a spokeswoman for Laffey's campaign, said the mayor had no public comments on Wednesday. At the campaign headquarters, campaign signs were stacked against a wall in the doorway.
"There's just stuff to do, people to call," Soloveichik said.
Najarian said the mayor told him it's going to take a little while for him to regroup, but he said he was glad he did not compromise on his integrity and felt he ran the campaign in an aboveboard way.
The mayor skipped his usual morning routine of reading a half-dozen papers, something he'd complete in about 45 minutes.
But he did have a cup of jumbo dark roast iced coffee, and a piece of apple pie, which Najarian said his sister had baked as a victory pie.
"He said, 'it looks like a victory pie, I'll have a piece'," Najarian said.
Posted by Jack Perry at 2:50 PM
Update: Driver crashes into stone border marker
WRENTHAM – A 42 year old Stoughton, Mass. man was injured this monring when he crashed into the stone and concrete structure that marks the border between Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Jose T. Sousa, of 50 Birch Street, was heading north on Wrentham Road, or Route 121, when he lost control of his red coupe.
The car flipped. Sousa, unconscious, was found inside the car.
Earlier reports that Sousa had been ejected from the car were incorrect, according to Jay McMorrow, Wrentham fire department deputy chief.
North Cumberland Fire Department took Sousa to Rhode Island Hospital shortly after 7 this morning.
The marker, which lies on a sweeping uphill curve, was destroyed by the impact and was cleared by Mass. Department of Transportation, McMorrow said.
Sousa complained of head, back, and neck pain, McMorrow said. He was in the hospital's emergency room at 1:45 p.m. today.
----Journal Staff Writer Philip Marcelo
Posted by Kate Bramson at 2:15 PM
Photo: Chafee makes post-primary stop in Warwick
Journal photo / Andrew Dickerman
U.S. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee visits a Stop & Shop supermarket today on Quaker Lane in Warwick, hours after his Republican primary win over Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey. Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian is in center. Chafee left his own term as Warwick mayor in 1999 to fill the Senate vacancy left by the death of his father, John H. Chafee. The younger Chafee won his Senate seat for the first time in a landslide victory in 2000. He'll face Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in November.
Posted by Andrea Panciera at 1:47 PM
West Nile found in Cranston, Block Island, Richmond
PROVIDENCE -- West Nile Virus has been detected in mosquitoes samples in various locations across the state, including Cranston, Block Island and Richmond.
The state Department of Environmental Management released the positive findings today, warning residents to take precautions.
"The new West Nile findings, in both rural and urban areas of the state, reinforce the confirmation that West Nile Virus is well established throughout the state, as, indeed, it is throughout the country," reads a statement released by DEM.
While no humans have been infected in Rhode Island this year, 10 mosquito pools have tested positive for the potentially-dangerous virus that can lead to an inflammation of the brain in some cases.
Two mosquito pools collected at the Boy Scout camp on Block Island tested positive, as did one pool from the Knightsville area of Cranston and another taken from the Carolina Management Area in Richmond.
Posted by Steve Peoples at 1:11 PM
Wake this afternoon for Seekonk Marine killed in Iraq
Family and friends will gather this afternoon for the wake for Marine Lance Cpl. Eric Valdepeñas of Seekonk, Mass., who was killed on patrol in Iraq on Sept. 4 when a roadside bomb exploded.
The wake is from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Perry-McStay Funeral Home in East Providence. The funeral for Valdepeñas is tomorrow at 11 a.m. at the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul in Providence.
Burial for Valdepeñas, who was a 2003 graduate of Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, will be private, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, which has helped the Valdepeñas family communicate with the media since the death of their son and brother. He was the youngest of eight children.
The funeral home is located at 2555 Pawtucket Ave. in East Providence. The Cathedral is located at One Cathedral Square in Providence.
The family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Lance Cpl. Eric P. Valdepeñas Memorial Scholarship Fund at Bishop Hendricken High School, 2615 Warwick Avenue, Warwick, R.I. 02889.
Extra: Post a tribute to Eric P. Valdepeñas
Posted by Kate Bramson at 12:28 PM
Hasbro Children's: Send in the clowns
PROVIDENCE – A team of six “clown doctors” will meet patients and their families this afternoon at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Started in Providence, the Big Apple Circus Clown Care program now brings clowns into 18 hospitals around the country to ease the fears of hospitalized children who are acutely and chronically ill. The local program will be funded with a three-year grant of $140,000 from Hasbro Children’s Fund, the philanthropic arm of Hasbro Inc.
The clowns will be introduced at the hospital at 2 p.m. and then go on doctor’s rounds, where they perform such “clown medicine” on their patients as red-nose transplants, kitty cat-scans and chocolate-milk transfusions.
-- projo.com staff writer Kate Bramson
Posted by Kate Bramson at 11:32 AM
Close races: In Exeter, one vote mattered
The race for the second of two Republican nominations to the Exeter School Committee is close.
Actually it's as close as it gets.
The unofficial count from the Board of Elections gave 387 votes for incumbent and Chairwoman Susan DeSack and 386 votes for incumbent Paul R. McFadden.
That tally includes mail ballots. Before the 10 early votes were counted, McFadden was ahead by one vote, according to the Board of Elections web site.
According to state law, McFadden has until 4 p.m. today to seek a recount. He has not immediately returned a call seeking comment this morning.
In Providence, the Democratic nomination for City Council in Ward 10 is separated by four votes this morning. Luis A. Aponte ended the night with 363 votes. Pedro J. Espinal had 359.
Posted by Peter Phipps at 10:36 AM
Lincoln School students welcome R.I.'s Vieira to Today / Photo
Journal photo / Kathy Borchers
Students from the Lincoln School in Providence, where Meredith Vieira was a member of the Class of 1971, greeted Vieira during a live feed from the school this morning as part of Vieira's welcome to the Today show.
NEW YORK -- Starting a new era on television's most popular morning show, Rhode Island native Meredith Vieira made her debut today as Matt Lauer's partner on NBC's Today show.
"I feel like it's the first day of school and I'm sitting next to the cutest guy," Vieira said at the show's opening. The longtime CBS newswoman and recent host on daytime's The View replaces Katie Couric.
The show also took the wraps off a rebuilt studio in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center after spending the summer in temporary digs, and began broadcasting in high definition.
-- The Associated Press and projo.com reports
Today hasn't lost in the morning ratings in more than a decade and is television's most profitable show, so NBC has a lot riding on Vieira.
Couric's exit didn't put a dent in the show's ratings dominance during the summer and now NBC hopes that viewers accept Vieira into the family.
"There has never been a team that is better prepared to do this job than the one we've got," said Steve Capus, NBC News president.
Vieira had a serious tone and approach with Tim Russert this morning as they discussed the November general election and the war in Iraq.
Then, she was laughing and joking with Lauer just a few minutes later as she held up the latest People magazine issue, with a photo of him bare-chested on the beach. She cut to a clip of President Bush greeting Lauer with a copy of the magazine in hand.
“He’s turned on by your abs,” she laughingly told her new TV partner, who also has connections with Rhode Island and Vieira's former employer, Channel 10. He was co-host of the station's PM Magazine from 1981 to 1985.
Then, she flubbed her line a bit as they signed off for a 7:20 a.m. commercial break and left us with an image of the two co-hosts laughing together and seeming to enjoy themselves.
Posted by Kate Bramson at 7:48 AM
Sunshine today, rain on the way
PROVIDENCE – Make sure to get outside and enjoy the high near 70 today because the next three days are likely to be filled with rain.
Sunday’s our next best bet for a sunny day – not to mention a high near 80. Maybe summer isn’t gone quite yet.
The National Weather Service has issued another hazardous weather outlook for today for Rhode Island, Massachusetts and parts of Connecticut and New Hampshire. A high-surf advisory remains in effect for the east-facing Massachusetts coasts today.
Get the latest conditions and forecasts from projo.com.
Posted by Kate Bramson at 7:12 AM
Man to be arraigned, charged with 8-year-old girl's murder
PROVIDENCE -- A 21-year-old Woonsocket man is scheduled for arraignment this afternoon on charges he kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered an 8-year-old neighbor in May.
Joshua A. Davis, 21, of 564 Coe St. No. 2, was indicted Aug. 25 on one count of murder, one count of first-degree child molestation and one count of kidnapping a minor.
The indictment alleges that on or about May 7, Davis murdered Savannah Smith, in Cranston. The Woonsocket police arrested Davis May 8 on a murder charge.
Davis is scheduled for arraignment at 2 p.m. in Providence Superior Court.
Posted by Jack Perry at 7:04 AM