Once-sealed FBI files shed light on federal probe into Buddy Cianci

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A source told FBI agents he was aware of approximately 15 different contractors who paid bribes to then-Providence Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr., but none of them were willing to cooperate with law enforcement during the early stages of Operation Plunder Dome, according to once-sealed documents obtained by Target 12.

The FBI released the first batch of heavily redacted documents from Cianci’s file on Wednesday, nearly a year to the day after the famed former mayor died unexpectedly from sudden blood loss following a bowel obstruction. The entire file will be 594 pages, according to a spokesperson for the FBI.

The release of the documents came in response to a federal Freedom of Information Act request made by Target 12 last year. An individual’s FBI file can be made public following their death.

The 69 pages shed light on the early stages of the federal investigation that would ultimately send Cianci to prison for four years, including the Aug. 18, 1998, approval of the code name Operation Plunder Dome itself. The names of the vast majority of sources who talked to investigators were redacted.

“There is substantial predication indicating that businesses in the city of Providence are forced to make illegal payments in order to conduct their operations,” agents wrote in a memo dated Aug. 3, 1998.  “Legitimate businesses are eliminated from competition because of this corruption, and in fact many legitimate businesses do not even compete because of the corruption.”

Without the undercover operation or “UCO,” investigators wrote, the city “will continue to conduct ‘business as usual,’ to the detriment of the businesses and citizens of that community.”

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In one memo, agents warned their bosses that “extensive media coverage is expected” once searches began during the investigation. The documents explain how agents were expected to handle money for the probe, although the amount was redacted. A later document shows they requested more funding.

In a proposal to renew the investigation in February 1999, agents said while the probe had already developed evidence regarding numerous government officials, “there is evidence that others, including the mayor, continue to engage in criminal activity.”

“The successful continuation of this UCO will enable the collection of evidence against these other officials and will restore a sense of fairness to the competitive bidding process,” agents wrote.

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Cianci, who served as mayor from 1975 to 1984 and again from 1991 until 2002, was ultimately charged in a 30-count indictment along with four aides. They were accused of trading campaign contributions for city contracts, accepting bribes and holding up city building permits out of spite. He was convicted on one count of racketeering conspiracy.

Cianci had previously been forced to resign from office in 1984 after pleading no contest to a vicious assault of his estranged wife’s lover, and resigned again in 2002 following the Plunder Dome conviction. After leaving prison, he worked as a talk radio show host for WPRO-AM and ran for mayor again in 2014, losing to Democrat Jorge Elorza.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook