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Struggling RI city's ex-mayor pleads guilty

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The former mayor of a Rhode Island city that recently emerged from bankruptcy pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge Monday, acknowledging that he accepted gifts from a political supporter who received a lucrative city contract to board up vacant homes.

Charles Moreau apologized to the people of Central Falls, his family and friends after appearing in U.S. District Court in Providence on Monday morning. Moreau, whose hands shook during his hearing, faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced in February. Moreau stepped down as mayor in September.

"People make mistakes in life, and I made a mistake. I'm going to pay for it," Moreau said outside the courthouse.

Asked if he knew he was doing something wrong when he accepted the gifts from Bouthillette, the 48-year-old Moreau said he didn't.

Moments later, Moreau's friend and political supporter Michael Bouthillette entered his own guilty plea and admitted that he paid at least in part for a furnace installed at Moreau's former home in Central Falls, just north of Providence, and for renovations at a home Moreau owned in nearby Lincoln. The total value is estimated at $5,000 to $10,000.

In exchange, Moreau used his emergency powers to order foreclosed homes be boarded up by Bouthillette's business. Prosecutors say Bouthillette boarded up at least 167 homes between 2007 and 2009 and made "unreasonable profits" of hundreds of thousands of dollars. When city employees questioned the work, and the amounts Bouthillette was charging, Moreau dismissed the concerns, once telling an employee to "mind his own (expletive) business."

In some cases, Bouthillette re-boarded up homes that other companies had already boarded up or where people were still living. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to pay $160,000 to social service, public safety and other agencies to benefit Central Falls.

Prosecutors are expected to recommend prison time for both men. Court papers said they would recommend at least a year for Bouthillette. U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha has said they view Moreau's crime more seriously because he is a public official.

Moreau's lawyer, William Murphy, had no comment on an expected sentence for his client.

Moreau had served as mayor of Central Falls, a 1.3-square-mile city of 19,000 residents, since 2004. He was stripped of his duties in 2010 when a state receiver stepped in to address the finances in the city, where the community center was closed, the library was temporarily shuttered, taxes went up and pensions were slashed. Moreau and several members of the City Council fought the constitutionality of the receivership law in court, to no avail.

The receiver filed for bankruptcy on the city's behalf in August 2011. The city came out of bankruptcy in October.

Central Falls City Councilman James Diossa and former police Chief Joe Moran are running in the Dec. 11 election to serve out the remainder of Moreau's term. Diossa said Moreau's guilty plea "brings to an end a sad chapter in our city's history."

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