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September 18, 2006
Joshua Davis to appear in court Wednesday
PROVIDENCE -- The man accused of murdering and molesting 8-year-old Savannah is scheduled to appear in Superior Court Wednesday morning.
Joshua A. Davis, of Woonsocket, was indicted last month on one count of murder, one count of first-degree child molestation and one count of kidnapping a minor. He was initially ordered held without bail.
Lawyers for Davis and the prosecution met behind closed doors today to schedule Wednesday's hearing, which will focus on Davis' bail status. He has the right to request a bail hearing, but he may choose to waive that right, choosing to stay in prison through the outcome of his trial.
Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Lanphear will preside over the hearing.
-- Journal staff writer Steve Peoples
Posted by Steve Peoples at 5:36 PM
Update: Celona storms out of court after cross-examination
PROVIDENCE -- As the cross-examination continued this afternoon, Richard M. Egbert, Robert Urciuoli’s lawyer, grilled John Celona about inconsistencies in his story to federal investigators.
It was a stormy day, ending with an angry Celona storming out of the courtroom after court adjourned.
Egbert put particular emphasis on Celona’s shifting accounts of how he came to be hired by Urciuoli and what he has said regarding his dealings with the CVS pharmacy chain.
This afternoon, Egbert confronted Celona with federal grand-jury testimony from last spring regarding Celona’s $1,000-a-month consulting deal with CVS. Celona, the government’s star witness, has pleaded guilty to selling his office to Roger Williams, CVS and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, and is cooperating with the government.
Last year, when Celona pleaded guilty, he said that he never disclosed his consulting relationship with CVS to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. But in his grand jury testimony on May 2, 2006, Celona said that he telephoned someone at the commission and got a verbal assurance that as long as he didn’t vote on legislation that directly affected CVS, it would be okay.
Celona initially testified that he made the call on his cell phone. But then Egbert showed him his grand-jury testimony of two weeks later, in which Celona testified that he reviewed his cell phone records with the FBI and had determined that he was mistaken. Instead, Celona testified, he made the call from his home telephone.
A skeptical Egbert asked Celona who he spoke to at the Ethics Commission. Celona said that he couldn’t recall.
At the end of the day, Egbert told Chief U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres that he had at least another half a day of questioning of Celona. Lawyers for the other two defendants, Frances P. Driscoll and Peter J. Sangermano Jr., estimated that they have about another day of questions for Celona after that.
-- Journal staff writer Mike Stanton
Posted by Steve Peoples at 5:14 PM
James Earl Jones to read to children in Providence
PROVIDENCE -- The voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones, will appear at the Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Avenue next month, according to the Providence Public Library.
Jones plans to read a story to children and talk about the importance of reading as part of a larger celebration of the local nonprofit group, Books Are Wings, which will receive a grant from Verizon at the event.
Jones, a Hollywood actor turned Verizon Yellow Pages spokesman, has starred and done voice work in various movies such as The Lion King, Star Wars, Coming to America, and Field of Dreams.
“Providence Public Library is delighted to host Mr. Jones’ visit to Rhode Island and to be involved in so much of the great work undertaken by Books Are Wings and Verizon each year to improve children’s literacy in Providence, as well as throughout the state,” library Director Dale Thompson said in a statement.
The visit is scheduled for Oct. 3 at 4:30 p.m.
Posted by Steve Peoples at 3:50 PM
New poll: Chafee trails by 8 points
In the first poll released since his high-profile win in the Republican primary, U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee trails Democratic challenger Sheldon Whitehouse by 8 percentage points.
The poll, released today by the independent national pollster Rasmussen Reports, shows Chafee trailing 43 to 51 percent based on a survey of 500 likely voters taken Sept. 13 -- the day after Chafee's narrow primary victory over Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey.
The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Today's poll indicates that Whitehouse's lead is growing. When Rasmussen asked 500 likely voters on Aug. 23 to choose hypothetically between Whitehouse and Chafee, Whitehouse lead 44 to 42 percent.
In the race for governor, today's results show that Governor Carcieri and his Democratic opponent Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty continue to be deadlocked. Carcieri leads 47 percent to 45 percent -- a difference that falls within the margin of error.
The general election is seven weeks away.
-- Projo.com staff writer Steve Peoples
Posted by Steve Peoples at 3:25 PM
U.S. policy change to affect thousands of Liberians
WASHINGTON -- The Department of Homeland Security today gave Liberians one more year to address their immigration status or return to Liberia.
The department said in a news release that the "Temporary Protected Status'' that has given Liberians safe haven in the United States since the 1980s will end on Oct. 1, 2007.
If the change takes place as scheduled, the effect would be that Liberians who have not found an alternative immigration status would have to leave the United States by that date.
The DHS said about 3,600 nationals of Liberia would be affected.
Since the outbreak of civil war in Liberia, Rhode Island has been home to one of the nation's largest communities of Liberian expatriates. The state has a Liberian community of between 10,000 and 15,000 -- proportionately the largest Liberian population in any state.
There is also a large Rhode Island contingent of the children of such Liberians --
now naturalized U.S. citizens.
The TPS program is designed for foreign nationals who have fled here from such dangers as war or natural disaster in their homelands. The DHS said in its news release that conditions in Liberia have improved since the end of the civil war to the extent that TPS is no longer applicable to their status.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed's office said the Rhode Island congressional delegation will strive to seek a legislative solution for Liberians who face the prospect of having to leave the United States.
-- Journal staff writer John Mulligan
Posted by Steve Peoples at 3:10 PM
Former Mass. governor King dies
BOSTON -- Edward King, a conservative Democrat who defeated Michael Dukakis for the Democratic nomination for governor on a pro-business, tax-cutting platform in 1978, then lost a rematch four years later, died today after a fall. He was 81.
King had three brain surgeries this year. He twice had emergency surgery in March to relieve pressure from blood pooling near his brain after a fall at his Miami area home in March, an incident that required 24 days in the hospital.
He required heavy sedation after brain surgery again this month following a fall at the family's Middleton home. He died at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, where he had been since the fall.
His son, Timothy King, said his father was "a wonderful example of how to be a good person and how to be successful." Arrangements were pending, he said.
-- The Associated Press
Behind the slogan "Make it in Massachusetts," King mounted a successful pro-business challenge to incumbent Dukakis, winning a bitter campaign by more than 100,000 votes in the 1978 Democratic primary.
"We were competitors, we were rivals, but he was someone who worked at his job very, very hard," said Dukakis. "He wasn't interested in going to Mexico or Canada. He worked at his job and I always admired him for that."
King beat Republican Francis W. Hatch in the general election, then as governor, froze property taxes, reduced state spending on social programs, and undertook a variety of efforts to encourage business and agriculture.
King also took a tough stance on crime, introducing mandatory minimum sentences and almost succeeding in bringing the death penalty back to Massachusetts.
In 1982, voters approved a constitutional amendment to restore the death penalty, and King signed capital punishment into law before leaving office that December. But two years later, the state's highest court ruled part of the law unconstitutional.
His stand on capital punishment prompted President Reagan to call King his "favorite Democratic governor."
Reagan's comment played a part in mobilizing more liberal Democrats to defeat King at the party's 1982 convention, where he lost to Dukakis, who went on to win his second term as governor. He later ran unsuccessfully for president against George H.W. Bush.
King and Dukakis disagreed on the death penalty, but shared a commitment to urban renewal.
"He was very committed to the state's cities and towns," Dukakis said. "A lot of the programs I started in my first term, he continued, so when I came back we never missed a beat.
"Don't forget that in the mid-70s they were calling (Massachusetts) the new Appalachia. Getting the state back on its feet was a huge priority for both us," he said.
During his first visit to the Statehouse in nearly eight years in 1990 at the official unveiling of his portrait, King continued to torment Dukakis, calling him "arrogant" and "incompetent" and his second term "disastrous."
King's administration was also rife with charges of corruption, cronyism and incompetence. High-level appointees resigned for falsifying academic credentials and for being tied to organized crime, while lower-level appointments went to relatives and others with strong personal ties to King.
Raymond Flynn, former Boston mayor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, said King was the last "pro-life" Democratic governor. He was in office during Pope John Paul II's historic visit to Boston.
"His Catholic values helped make him one of the best public officials in our state's history," Flynn said.
King, a longtime Winthrop resident, switched to the GOP in 1985, saying that the Democratic Party was controlled by liberals. "The truth is simply that the Democratic Party has ceased to be the party of the sensible center and has become a party dominated by professional liberals," he said at the time.
King's values resonated with Democratic Party moderates, a demographic that President Reagan rode to the White House, said Thomas P. O'Neill III, King's lieutenant governor. "What people should remember about him is that he really predated Reagan in tapping into the conservative movement long before anyone else," O'Neill said. Had he brought his message nationally, he may have won higher office, O'Neill said.
Republican Gov. Mitt Romney said King never compromised his values. "Gov. King served with distinction and dignity," Romney said in a statement.
"He had a stiff spine, probably forged during those years he spent playing professional football, but he was absolutely unwavering in support of his positions. He changed parties, but never principles," Romney said.
King considered running for governor as a Republican in 1985, but explained his decision not to run by saying his wife, while supporting his candidacy, would miss spending winters in Florida.
King sued The Boston Globe in 1982, claiming the newspaper libeled him in three editorial cartoons, an editorial and three political columns. A jury ruled against King in 1988.
King was born in Chelsea and graduated from Boston College with a degree in business. He played three seasons of professional football as a lineman for the Buffalo Bills of the All-American Football Conference and the NFL's Baltimore Colts before joining the accounting firm Lybrand, Ross Bros. & Montgomery in Boston where he worked from 1953 to 1956.
His three years in professional sports helped him develop a lifetime of staying in top physical shape.
King became assistant director and comptroller of the Museum of Science in Boston in 1956, then worked for the Massachusetts Port Authority starting in 1959 until 1974, first as comptroller, then as secretary/treasurer, and finally as executive director, when he oversaw the expansion of Logan International Airport.
From 1975 to 1977, King was president of the New England Council, a nonprofit alliance of business and social leaders focused on regional economic growth.
After leaving political office, King joined the public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton then was involved in real estate development. Although he became an official Florida resident in 1990, he re-entered Massachusetts public service in 1996 when former Gov. William F. Weld put King in charge of the Massachusetts Turnpike's extensive real estate holdings.
King was predeceased by his wife, Josephine T. King, who died in 1995 of complications following heart surgery. In addition to his son Timothy, he is survived by another son, Brian.
Posted by Jack Perry at 2:56 PM
City launches $5 million paving program
PROVIDENCE – Fifteen miles of city roads in a number of neighborhoods will be repaved, all part of a $5 million road-improvement project announced today.
Repairs will also be made to city sidewalks. Wheelchair accessible curbs will be installed where needed.
City crews have already begun working on the first phase of the project, which includes the following roads: Cranston Street, between Huntington Avenue and Winter Street; Eddy Street, between Broad Street and Thurbers Avenue; and West River Street, between Charles and Corliss streets.
The second phase of the project will begin in the next couple of weeks, according to Karen Southern, Mayor David N. Cicilline’s spokeswoman. It includes work on Hawkins Street, from Branch Avenue to the North Providence line; Hope Street, between Fifth Street and Lloyd Avenue; and Woodward Road, from Branch Avenue to the North Providence line.
The road work, announced this morning by Cicilline, will also include traffic signal rehabilitation, sign replacement and striping.
Posted by Kate Bramson at 2:49 PM
Two R.I. nursing homes to pay back wages
PROVIDENCE – Two Rhode Island nursing homes have agreed to pay more than $135,000 in back wages to 113 employees after a U.S. Labor Department investigation revealed violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
Heatherwood Nursing and Subacute Center, Inc., of Newport, and South County Nursing and Subacute Center, Inc., of North Kingstown, failed to pay employees for hours worked over 40 in a work week, according to a statement released today by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Boston office.
The investigation of the nursing homes, which were jointly owned and operated at the time, covered the period from March 27, 2004, through March 25 of this year. It also revealed that the nursing homes failed to maintain proper records of total daily and weekly hours worked and that some records were not kept at all, according to the Department of Labor.
The Heatherwood facility agreed to pay $63,132 in back wages to 48 employees, and the South County facility agreed to pay 65 employees $71,971 in back wages.
-- projo.com staff writer Kate Bramson
Posted by Kate Bramson at 2:49 PM
Celona under fire in cross-examination
PROVIDENCE -- John A. Celona testified under cross-examination today that he didn’t recall a key early meeting with Robert Urciuoli regarding his attempts to land a job until earlier this month, just before Urciuoli’s trial began.
Celona, the former senator from North Providence, has pleaded guilty to selling his office to Roger Williams Medical Center through a consulting job that he held with a hospital affiliate, the Village at Elmhurst. He is the government’s star witness in the trial of Urciuoli, the former Roger Williams president, as well as former Roger Williams vice president Frances P. Driscoll and former Village co-owner Peter J. Sangermano.
The trial opened its second week today.
Celona testified last week that he first asked Urciuoli for a job with the hospital early in 1997, when Roger Williams was lobbying hard against pending legislation to block its attempted merger with an out-of-state hospital chain. Urciuoli, Celona testified, said to wait and see how things turned out with the legislation.
That summer, after Roger Williams lost its legislative battle, Celona testified that he met again with Urciuoli "about my job,’’ and that Urciuoli agreed to take care of him.
Under attack today by Urciuoli’s lawyer, Richard M. Egbert, Celona admitted that he didn’t tell the government about that first meeting with Urciuoli, either in his many debriefings with the FBI or in his appearances before a federal grand jury, until around Labor Day weekend of this year.
``You never mentioned your earlier discussion about a job, not one word?’’ demanded Egbert.
``That’s right, but it did happen,’’ replied Celona.
-- Journal staff writer Mike Stanton
Celona testified that he recollected the earlier meeting with Urciuoli as he was ``going back in my mind’’ in preparation for the trial.
Egbert and Celona clashed repeatedly. Chief U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres often acted as referee, telling Celona several times to answer Egbert’s questions and warning Egbert about ``gratuitous comments.’’ During one heated exchange between Celona and Egbert, the judge said, ``You can’t both talk at the same time.’’
Celona was reluctant to answer even the most basic questions without seeing an underlying document, and accused Egbert of trying to confuse him with ``trick questions.’’
When Egbert pressed Celona to say when he first learned that the Village at Elmhurst was a business partner with Roger Williams, Celona said he couldn’t say, even when Egbert asked for an approximate date or year.
``I just told you – approximately, I don’t know,’’ said Celona.
More to come this afternoon...
Posted by Steve Peoples at 1:24 PM
Update: Providence woman charged with killing neighbor
PROVIDENCE – A Providence woman accused of stabbing to death her neighbor was ordered held without bail at her arraignment this morning in Sixth District Court.
Lucille Williams-Sanford, 47, who lives in a second-floor apartment at 4 Cathedral Square, was charged this morning with one count of first-degree murder, according to Michael J. Healey, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.
She is accused of killing John Neary, 47, who lived in a first-floor apartment at 4 Cathedral Square, according to Providence Police Capt. Hugh Clements, commander of the Detective Bureau.
Neary's death was the city's 8th homicide this year. He is the seventh man to be killed and the third person to be fatally stabbed.
-- projo.com staff writer Kate Bramson
Neary was stabbed inside Williams-Sanford’s apartment and collapsed in the second-floor hallway, a few feet from the door of the woman’s apartment, Clements said early this afternoon.
Detectives seized a knife with a five-inch blade while processing the crime scene, Clements said.
The police would not discuss a motive. Clements said the incident is not considered a domestic-related crime, meaning the two people were not involved in a relationship.
In court today, District Court Chief Judge Albert E. DeRobbio entered no plea on Williams-Sanford’s behalf, Healey said. Felonies cannot be adjudicated in District Court, so no plea is formally entered at this early stage in the court process.
The case was referred to the public defender’s office, Healey said. The next court date is set for next Monday, when an attorney will be assigned to the case. Williams-Sanford is not required to be in court for that hearing, Healey said.
Posted by Kate Bramson at 1:09 PM
Wife of disgraced R.I. contractor arrested in Germany
BERLIN -- The wife of an American contractor accused of cheating the U.S. government in Iraq was arrested in Germany on suspicion of money laundering, a prosecutor said today.
Jacqueline Battles, a German citizen, was detained after a German bank informed authorities about "suspicious transactions" on her accounts two months ago, prosecutor David Kirkpatrick told The Associated Press.
German investigators seized about $1 million in suspect funds from the accounts, said Kirkpatrick, a prosecutor in the German city of Darmstadt.
"She is in investigative custody," Kirkpatrick said in a telephone interview. The woman, who lives near Darmstadt, has not been formally charged.
In March, a U.S. jury ordered contractors Mike Battles and Scott Custer to pay $10 million for swindling the U.S. government over Iraqi rebuilding projects in connection with their Middletown-based company, Custer Battles LLC.
That ruling was the first civil fraud verdict arising from the Iraq war.
However, a federal judge overturned the verdict on a technicality in July, saying any fraud was against the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq rather than the U.S. government, even though American taxpayers ultimately footed the bill.
The Associated Press
According to a letter provided recently to the AP, Jacqueline Battles is suspected of moving at least $2 million into overseas accounts to hide her husband's money.
Kirkpatrick did not comment directly on the July letter, which carried his name as the sender and was addressed to an American attorney representing two whistleblowers who say they were threatened and fired when they objected to Custer Battles' business practices.
The letter said Jacqueline Battles had opened several bank accounts under her maiden name of Vihernik.
Kirkpatrick said the suspicion of money laundering stemmed from the initial March ruling by a federal jury in Virginia ordering the contractors to pay $10 million to the government.
The lawsuit accused the firm of overcharging the CPA, which ran Iraq after the 2003 invasion, by as much as $50 million.
Custer and Battles appealed and claimed they did not have enough assets to pay the money back. Jacqueline Battles was not part of her husband's firm.
Kirkpatrick declined to comment on any direct cooperation between U.S. and German authorities in the case of Jacqueline Battles.
A U.S. federal criminal investigation into the contracts is ongoing, and Custer Battles is also being investigated for two shooting incidents in which Iraqi civilians and soldiers were injured.
Robert Isakson, one of the two whistleblowers who won the March verdict, is a plaintiff in a second lawsuit accusing two former Pentagon officials of scheming with Custer and Battles to form sham companies that sold illegal weapons on Iraq's black market, where they could be bought by insurgents, the AP reported in July.
Posted by Jack Perry at 12:43 PM
FDA expands spinach recall
Given the national outbreak of E. coli traced to tainted spinach, the Food and Drug Administration has expanded its recall on spinach today.
There have been no reported cases of E. coli in Rhode Island as of this morning, state Health Department spokeswoman Maria E. Wah-Fitta said. Outbreaks have been reported in 19 states – including two cases in Connecticut and seven in New York, Wah-Fitta said.
The number of people sickened by E. coli across the country is 109, as of this morning, she said.
Following the FDA's latest recall announcement, the state Health Department is urging Rhode Islanders not to buy or eat any loose spinach, salad mixes that contain spinach, and fresh, bagged spinach, Wah-Fitta said.
Local grocery stores and restaurants have pulled such spinach products.
“The restaurants and stores have been extremely cooperative,” Wah-Fitta said.
-- projo.com staff writer Kate Bramson
Some are offering refunds to customers who had purchased the now-recalled products.
At the Whole Foods supermarket on North Main Street in Providence, a sign in the lettuce area alerts customers in red letters to an “Important note about spinach.”
In black text, the message reads: “We are currently researching the spinach issue in the United States and have pulled all spinach until such a time when we feel it is no longer a public health concern.”
At a popular downtown eatery, before the lunch hour, spinach calzones were pulled from the shelf and thrown in the trash. Mama Teresa’s, like many restaurants and bakeries, makes its spinach calzones with frozen spinach.
Although frozen spinach has not yet been mentioned in recall notices, according to Wah-Fitta, some are taking no chances.
Posted by Kate Bramson at 11:14 AM
Gas prices drop another 11 cents
Gas prices in Rhode Island dropped another 11 cents last week and have fallen 45 cents over the past six weeks, according to AAA Southern New England.
The average price is $2.65 for a gallon of unleaded gasoline at the self-service pump, according to AAA's weekly survey.
Prices have dropped for seven straight weeks and are at their lowest point since early April, AAA said.
Rhode Island drivers were paying $2.67 per gallon at this time last year.
Posted by Jack Perry at 10:37 AM
Housing advocates to push for ballot question
PROVIDENCE -- HousingWorks RI, a coalition that advocates for solutions to housing problems in the Ocean State, will kick off a campaign this morning to urge the passage of Question 9 on the November ballot.
Question 9 would allow the state to issue $50 million in bonds to help create the first 1,000 affordable-housing units in the state’s plan to create 5,000 units over a five-year period. Read more in today’s Journal about the Census figures that show Rhode Island has created new living space at a slower rate than any other state in the country.
HousingWorks RI plans today to share the first of what it’s calling “50 stories, 50 days, 50 reasons to vote YES on 9.” Indeed, it’s just 50 days to the November general election. The event is at 11 a.m. at 182 Douglas Ave. in Providence.
-- projo.com staff writer Kate Bramson
Expected to attend today’s event are Republican Governor Carcieri and Democratic Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty, who is trying to unseat the governor in the general election. Also, Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline and Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence are expected to be there.
The directors of the Rhode Island Hospitality and Tourism Association recently voted to support Question 9.
Posted by Kate Bramson at 8:17 AM
Warm and sunny day on the way
PROVIDENCE – Looks like we’ve got another beautiful day ahead, following what turned out to be a glorious weekend despite predictions for rain on Saturday.
Today, expect a high of 84.
But look out, too, for some foggy conditions that could prove dangerous. The National Weather Service has warned travelers and pedestrians to remain alert, particularly along the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
The fog should burn off by 9 a.m. today, but dense fog could return in parts of southern New England late tonight.
Get the latest conditions and forecasts from projo.com.
Posted by Kate Bramson at 7:10 AM