Prominent Providence jeweler arrested in undercover drug probe

Prominent Providence jeweler Joseph Esposito, 71, is accused of selling marijuana and butane oil to an undercover officer.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The well-known owner of a Providence jewelry company has been charged in a large-scale marijuana trafficking investigation by the Rhode Island State Police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Target 12 has learned.

Joseph Esposito, 71, is accused of selling marijuana and butane oil to an undercover officer on multiple occasions between June and August out of a building he owns at 225 Dupont Drive in Providence, according to court documents. His business, Esposito Jewelry Inc., has the same address.

Esposito was arrested Nov. 5, and charged with five felony counts of selling marijuana to an undercover officer, two felony counts of intent to deliver marijuana or marijuana oil and one felony count each of conspiracy and possession of marijuana in excess of five kilograms, according to a criminal complaint.

He was released on $5,000 bond. Another man, 30-year-old Timothy Hunter, was also charged in the investigation.

Melissa Larsen, Esposito’s attorney, declined to comment Tuesday. Larsen confirmed that Esposito is also represented by William Murphy, the former speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives.

The investigation started in June after a “first-time confidential informant” told a state police detective and a South Kingstown police officer working with the DEA that there was a “large indoor marijuana growing operation” inside the Dupont Drive building, according to a court affidavit.

Detectives conducted five months of surveillance at Esposito’s business as well as two homes he owns in Narragansett and on Providence’s East Side, the affidavit states. On June 20, an undercover officer purchased marijuana oil directly from Esposito inside the business. The exchange was captured on a video recording, according to state police.

The affidavit states marijuana purchases were also made directly from Esposito on June 23, Aug. 7, Aug. 10 and Aug. 31. During the Aug. 7 sale, Hunter was present. Hunter was surreptitiously recorded explaining that he had mailed 10,000 packages of marijuana from California to Esposito over the last eight years.

The affidavit also states the undercover officer was never asked by Esposito if he had a medical marijuana card during any of the purchases. Esposito does not have a patient or caregiver card, according to detectives. Hunter, Esposito’s alleged co-conspirator, did have both a medical marijuana patient card and a license to grow marijuana.

A business called Ocean State Cannabis Therapy LLC that lists 225 Dupont Drive as its address was incorporated in February, according to filings with the secretary of state’s office. It is unclear with Esposito or Hunter have any formal role with the company. The business is not listed as an approved applicant or license holder with the R.I. Department of Business Regulation’s medical marijuana program.

The affidavit states detectives used a thermal imaging camera that can detect hot spots through walls at the office building, finding images “consistent with sources of heat used to cultivate of marijuana.” Detectives also learned the electric bill for August and September in the office was $10,556, while a neighboring business’s bill was just $262.

A search warrant executed at the building earlier this month turned up 126 mature marijuana plants, 33 pounds of marijuana, four tubs of marijuana oil and other drug paraphernalia. Police also seized more than $60,000, two vehicles and a motorcycle, records show. Police also executed search warrants at Esposito’s two homes, seizing $6,000, a gun and a Jaguar sedan from the Providence property.

Esposito appears to have earned the bulk of his wealth from the jewelry company, a family business that was incorporated in Rhode Island in 1935, about nine years before he was born. At one time, the company’s products were sold on the QVC Shopping Network.

He has also been a prolific political donor over the years, contributing at least $35,000 to mostly Democratic candidates, according to state and federal campaign finance filings. Since 2010, he has donated $5,500 to Gov. Gina Raimondo, $4,300 to House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi and $2,000 to Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Campaign spokespeople for Raimondo and Elorza did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, is also Esposito’s cousin. Reached Tuesday, he said he has done minor legal work for the jewelry company.

“If these charges become reality, I will donate that money to charity,” Shekarchi said.

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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