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Former mayor in R.I. gets 2 years in kickback scheme

PROVIDENCE — A former mayor of Central Falls was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison for taking gifts from a political supporter who received a lucrative no-bid contract to board up houses in the economically depressed and ­financially troubled city.

Charles Moreau was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine. US District Judge John McConnell said he took into account the effect Moreau’s actions had on the public trust, but decided not to give him the maximum 27 months allowed under sentencing guidelines.

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Moreau submitted a letter to the court taking responsibility and apologized to his family, friends, and residents. He had been seeking a lesser sentence, saying he had done much good for the city during more than 8½ years in office.

“I made a mistake, and I take full responsibility for it,” Moreau, who turned 49 last week, later told reporters.

Moreau, who has two sons, ages 8 and 5, must report to authorities on March 4.

Prosecutors said Moreau’s case was about arrogance and asked the judge to send a message about a political culture in Rhode Island described as sick. They had recommended prison time of two years and three months, saying that the “sleaze” represented by the gratuities demoralized residents in the 1.3-square-mile city, the only one in Rhode Island to have filed for municipal bankruptcy.

US Attorney Peter Neronha said public officials have a duty to uphold their oath of office.

“Is it really that difficult to know how to or when to do the right thing?” he asked after the proceeding.

Moreau pleaded guilty last year to one federal corruption count for accepting a $7,000 furnace and home repairs and other work from friend and political supporter Michael Bouthillette. Bouthillette received a no-bid contract to board up houses, working on at least 167 from 2007 to 2009 and making what prosecutors called “unreasonable profits.” Some of the houses still had people living in them.

Bouthillette also pleaded guilty. Prosecutors were seeking 18 months in prison for him, but on Tuesday the judge gave him three years of probation and ordered him to perform 2,000 hours of community service in Central Falls, full-time unpaid work, in his first year. He must also pay $160,000 to set up a charitable fund to serve residents, pay a $5,000 fine, and release an estimated $277,000 in liens on properties where he performed work.

Bouthillette declined to comment after the sentence.

Moreau resigned as mayor in September on the same day he agreed to a plea bargain with prosecutors. He had been mayor since 2004 and was stripped of most of his duties in 2010 when a state-appointed receiver took over because of its dire finances. By the time the receiver filed for bankruptcy in August 2011, the city, which has a population of 19,000 residents, had a deficit of more than $6 million on an annual budget of about $16 million.

Central Falls emerged from bankruptcy in October. James Diossa, a former city councilor, has been elected to serve out the remainder of Moreau’s term, and he took office on a pledge to run a transparent and ethical administration.

He said in a statement Tuesday that Moreau’s sentencing ends a sad chapter in the city.

“We must rededicate ourselves to building an honest and ethical city government that delivers city services to everyone equally, regardless of political affiliation or connection to City Hall,” he said. “We simply cannot go back to the mismanagement and corruption that plagued our city for years.”

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