PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – A corrupt former Rhode Island mayor was freed from prison early Friday as part of a deal struck with federal and state prosecutors after an appeals court threw his 2012 conviction into question.
Charles Moreau, former mayor of the financially troubled city of Central Falls, was released after first pleading guilty to a new charge of accepting a bribe and being sentenced on that charge to time served. As part of the deal, U.S. District Court Judge John McConnell vacated Moreau’s 2012 conviction, allowing him to walk free.
He served just under one year of a two-year sentence. McConnell also sentenced him to three years of supervised release, 300 hours of community service and a $25,000 fine, the same terms as his previous sentence.
As he left the courthouse Friday afternoon, Moreau said he was looking forward to being with his family but remained silent when asked if he had anything to say to the people of Central Falls.
Moreau pleaded guilty in November 2012 to accepting a gratuity by an official receiving federal funds, admitting as part of a plea deal that he accepted a furnace and home renovations from a businessman who had a lucrative no-bid contract to board up vacant houses in Central Falls.
Prosecutors say the scheme allowed the contractor, Michael Bouthillette, to make “unreasonable profits” of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In some cases, Bouthillette re-boarded up homes that other companies already had boarded up or where people still were living. Moreau reported to prison in March 2013.
But in June 2013, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in an unrelated case involving an official from Puerto Rico that it is not a crime for a government official to accept gratuities. A gratuity is a reward for a future or past act, as opposed to a bribe, which is a quid pro quo meant to influence an official.
Other appeals courts have said accepting gratuities is a crime, but the U.S. District Court in Providence is in the 1st Circuit.
In light of the decision, Moreau’s lawyer this month moved to vacate his gratuity conviction. Prosecutors agreed not to stand in the way as long as he pleaded guilty to the bribery charge. They also said in court papers that they did not concede Moreau’s gratuities conviction was invalid.
U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha said prosecutors originally pursued the gratuities charge, and not bribery or other charges, because they believe it was the best case they had at the time.
“Sometimes the law throws you a curveball,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
Neronha said he is “of course” not satisfied Moreau got out after serving only half his initial sentence.
“Ultimately, we believe this was the best disposition in this case at this time. The mayor walked out of court today a convicted felon,” he said.
The felony conviction was important to prosecutors, who were prepared to move ahead with new charges if a deal could not be struck, he said.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said prosecutors “still achieved justice.”
Central Falls is the state’s smallest city, measuring just over one square mile in size. It is a few miles north of Providence.
Moreau was first elected in 2003, and he presided over the city as it slid into financial problems, including a multimillion-dollar budget deficit and an unfunded pension liability pegged at $80 million. The state appointed a receiver to take over in 2010, and Moreau was stripped of most of his duties.
In 2011, Central Falls became the first in Rhode Island to declare municipal bankruptcy. The city emerged from bankruptcy after retirees’ pensions were cut, some by more than 50 percent. Union contracts also were renegotiated, taxes were hiked and city workers were laid off.
Moreau resigned in September 2012, the same day prosecutors submitted his agreement to plead guilty to the gratuities charge.
Bouthillette pleaded guilty to the same charge and is serving a sentence of 2,000 hours of community service, the equivalent of working unpaid full time for a year.
Associated Press writer Erika Niedowski contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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