Former Rhode Island House Speaker and former Vice-Chairman of the City of Providence Board of Licenses Gordon D. Fox, 53, of East Providence, was sentenced to three years in federal prison for stealing $108,000 donated by campaign supporters to pay for personal expenses; his acceptance of a $52,000 bribe to advocate and move for issuance of a liquor license for an East Side restaurant while serving as Vice-Chairman of the City of Providence Board of Licenses in 2008; and his failure to account for these illegal sources of income on his tax returns.
At sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Mary M. Lisi also ordered Fox to serve two years’ supervised release upon completion of his prison term, and to pay $109,000 in restitution. Fox pleaded guilty on March 3, 2015, to wire fraud, bribery and filing a false tax return.
Fox has been ordered to self-surrender to begin serving his prison sentence by July 7, 2015.
An 18-month federal grand jury investigation led by prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office and the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office, and investigators from the FBI, IRS and Rhode Island State Police, included the execution of court authorized search warrants at the former speaker’s home and State House office in March of 2014; the issuance of more than 200 subpoenas; the examination of more than 36,000 bank, government, personal, and campaign records belonging to former Speaker Fox; and forensic examinations of numerous computers and other electronic devices.
United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha commented, “It is a great irony that the man in Rhode Island once most responsible for securing the passage of laws somewhere along the way decided he no longer needed to follow them. And the laws former Speaker Fox chose not to follow were not just any laws, but rather laws designed to ensure the integrity of the legal and political process. In short, he violated his oath to the people of Rhode Island. He promised to do their business, not his own. His failure to keep that promise has brought him down today, and deservedly so.
“I want to thank the FBI and IRS Special Agents, Rhode Island State Police Detectives, and the federal and state prosecutors, whose outstanding work has secured justice and ensured that Rhode Island can chart a new path forward. Hopefully, Rhode Island can take advantage of it.”
Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin said, “From day one, I pledged the resources of my office, and when the allegations surrounding the acceptance of a bribe by Gordon Fox arose, and it was recognized that the federal statute of limitations for that offense had expired, this office made a commitment to the United States Attorney to proceed with the prosecution of that charge in state court if necessary. The State, working jointly with the United States Attorney, was ready to prosecute the bribery charge had this case not been resolved in Federal Court, and this case now stands as a testament to the commitment of both offices to aggressively prosecute corrupt public officials.”
Attorney General Kilmartin further stated, “Gordon Fox is not the first public official that our two offices have jointly prosecuted. While we can all hope it’s the last time we prosecute a public official, unfortunately history has taught us that it will happen again. But, let this serve as a warning to all public officials in this state, whether they are the Speaker of the House or a local board member—if you break the law, violate the trust the voters put in you, and abuse your office, you will be held accountable. You can be assured, as can the public, that we stand together, as federal and state prosecutors, with a single purpose, and will continue to work with our prosecutorial and law enforcement partners to ensure justice prevails.”
At the time of his guilty plea, Fox admitted to the Court that from February 2008 until March of 2014, just prior to the execution of federal search warrants at his State House office and home, he repeatedly used money received from campaign donors to pay for personal expenses. After transferring the money from his campaign accounts to his personal accounts, former Speaker Fox used the money—$108,000 in all—to pay the mortgage on his home, the loan payments on his car, and the balance on his personal American Express card, which he used to make purchases at various retail outlets. Fox admitted that in order to conceal his fraudulent conduct, he falsified his mandatory Rhode Island Board of Elections filings.
Additionally, Fox admitted to the Court that in 2008, while serving as an appointed member and Vice-Chairman of the City of Providence Board of Licenses, he accepted a $52,000 bribe from the owners of Shark Sushi Bar and Grill to help secure a liquor license for the establishment. At the time, there was considerable neighborhood opposition to the application. At a hearing in August 2008, Vice-Chairman Fox, pursuant to his agreement with the Shark Bar partners, spoke in detail regarding why the license should be awarded, and moved the Board to approve the Shark Bar’s application. The Board voted to approve the Shark Bar’s application.
Additionally, Fox admitted to the Court that for the tax years 2008 through 2012, he filed false tax returns, in that he knowingly omitted personal income he received as a result of his receipt of the bribe in 2008 and his fraudulent transfers from his campaign accounts to his personal accounts.
Vincent B. Lisi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Boston Division said, “Gordon Fox accepted a bribe, used campaign donations for his own personal use and lied on his tax return. The FBI will continue to go after corrupt individuals like him who abuse their elected office and betray the public’s trust.”
“Public servants are entrusted by all of us to act in the best interests of the citizens they serve,” said Special Agent William Offord, IRS Criminal Investigation. “Gordon Fox betrayed the public’s trust and his sentencing today sends a clear message—corruption at all levels of government will not be tolerated. IRS-CI will continue to lend our financial expertise to these important prosecutions.”
Colonel Steven G. O’Donnell, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police added, “I commend all the Troopers, Detectives, FBI and IRS agents as well as the prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office and Attorney General’s office for their dedication and commitment to justice”.
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