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Watchdog: Follow the Money

Rhode Island ex-mayor strikes deal to get out of prison

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Associated Press,Watchdog,Rhode Island,Accountability,Follow the Money,Law,Bribery

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A former mayor whose corruption conviction was thrown into question by an appeals court struck a deal that would allow him to be freed from prison after serving half his two-year sentence.

Charles Moreau, former mayor of the financially troubled city of Central Falls, agreed in a deal filed on Wednesday to plead guilty to a new charge of accepting a bribe. As part of the deal, federal prosecutors recommended Moreau be sentenced to time served.

Moreau could be released as soon as Friday, when a hearing on his case is scheduled before U.S. District Judge John McConnell.

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 received a lucrative city contract. He was sentenced in February 2013 to two years in prison, three years of supervised release, 300 hours of community service and a $25,000 fine.

But in June 2013, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in an unrelated case 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. The decision was a departure from other appeals courts, which have ruled that a gratuity is a crime.

In light of that decision, Moreau's lawyer this month moved to vacate his gratuity conviction. In their filings Wednesday, prosecutors told the judge they wouldn't oppose that if Moreau pleads guilty to the new bribery charge.

They also say that they don't concede that his conviction on the gratuity charge is invalid, and say they would fight it being vacated if not for the plea deal on the bribery charge.

McConnell must decide first whether to vacate the conviction. If he does that during Friday's hearing, then he could accept the guilty plea on the new charge and sentence Moreau immediately. If that happens, Moreau could be released Friday.

Under the terms of the new deal, Moreau would still be subjected to the three years of supervised release, 300 hours community service and the $25,000 fine.

Central Falls, just north of Providence, is the state's smallest city. Moreau was first elected to lead it in 2003. A slew of financial problems prompted the state to step in and appoint a receiver to take over the city in 2010, and Moreau was stripped of most of his duties. In 2011, the city became the first in Rhode Island to declare municipal bankruptcy.

Moreau resigned his post in September 2012, the same day prosecutors submitted his agreement to plead guilty to the gratuities charge.

The contractor, Michael 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.

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