NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Paul Caranci knew he would be called a “rat” by some when he agreed to be an FBI source, but he wasn’t expecting the prop.
It was his first council meeting back after sweeping indictments had come down on three of his town council colleagues, and someone had brought a huge cardboard cutout of a rat’s head and held it up.
“I was always taught to do the right thing and if you see something that’s wrong you go to the authorities with it,” Caranci said in an exclusive interview with Target 12. “But apparently others weren’t raised that way and they felt what I did was wrong.”
Caranci spent 17 months working with the FBI as the key source in a high-profile corruption investigation that ultimately led to three town councilmen pleading guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges. Starting in 2009 he secretly recorded meetings and phone calls, acting the part of a corrupt town councilman trading bribes for votes.
In May 2010, then-Council President Joseph Burchfield as well as councilmen John Zambarano and Raymond Douglas were arrested in a predawn raid. Court documents identified Caranci only as “confidential source #1,” but it wasn’t hard for people to figure out his identity.
“I got calls from a lot of friends some saying, ‘I hope you’re not the cooperating witness that was described,’” Caranci said. “I think they were saying that for my sake knowing that life would be irrevocably changed at that point.”
And it was. Caranci said his family received a death threat and they have been continuously harassed.
“I got hate mail, I got many phone calls,” he said. “I had my house vandalized a couple of times, I had my cars vandalized many times and I’ve had tires slashed.”
Someone kept throwing nails in his driveway and eventually Caranci had a surveillance system installed, but the perpetrators were never caught on video. Rather than call the local police, Caranci reached out to the FBI, who sent agents to his home but without success.
When Caranci first went to the FBI in 2009, he said he was reluctant to wear a wire, knowing his life would change forever once his role became known.
Veteran FBI agent James Pitcavage – the lead investigator on the case – said Caranci was “brave” for agreeing to take part.
“I think he was somebody who is very committed to doing the right thing for the citizens of North Providence and for Rhode Island,” Pitcavage said.
But not everyone agreed.
“I had friends that I had been friends with for 20 or 30 years that stopped talking to me,” Caranci said. “They just felt that what I did was wrong.”
Caranci said he also received calls of support, “but for every 10 calls you get, nine showing support and one that is not pleased, that’s the one you remember and that’s the one that has the impact.”
Pitcavage said Caranci’s situation was “unique” because unlike many other FBI cooperators, Caranci wasn’t in any legal trouble. There have been other high-profile local cases – including “Operation Plunder Dome” and the corruption probe into former Pawtucket Mayor Robert Sarault – where the key sources were volunteering for the job.
“Both those investigations had people who came forward and cooperated,” Pitcavage said. “I think there are many people out there who want to fight public corruption and I would ask them to reach out to us and help us in fighting that corruption.”
Pitcavage said often people remain anonymous or simply pass along information, but it’s critical to take that first step.
After living his entire life in Rhode Island, Caranci has now left the state. Earlier this year he moved to Indiana to work constituent services for a congressman there.
“I’m not leaving because of what happened, but my inability to get a good job here I think is a direct result of what I did,” Caranci said. “Everybody wants to say, ‘You did the right thing, good job, it took a lot of guts.’ But having you on staff where there’s a fear you might do it again at some point is not something people are willing deal with, apparently.”
For now Caranci has left behind everyone he kneo,s including his wife.
“That is turning out to be the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I didn’t think there’d be anything harder than wearing the wire,” Caranci said. “She was my rock … She kept me going when at times through this I didn’t think I could.”
He admits that from a “personal perspective” it may not have been worth it in light of “the things I had to endure as a result of it.”
“In the greater realm I think it certainly was worth it,” Caranci said. “If I had to tomorrow I would do it again. I wouldn’t change anything.”