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Ex-Rhode Island House speaker pleads guilty to federal charges

Ex-Rhode Island House speaker pleads guilty to federal charges

Updated: 6:00 p.m. EST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Former Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox, who in 2010 became the state’s first openly gay speaker, has pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, wire fraud and filing a false tax return following an investigation that included a dramatic federal raid on the Statehouse.

Gordon Fox
Gordon Fox AP
Fox, once considered among the most powerful politicians in state politics, appeared in federal court Tuesday. The government has recommended a three-year prison sentence. Fox acknowledges in court documents he received $52,500 in 2008 to help grant a liquor license to a Providence bar when he served on the city’s board of licenses. He also acknowledges making about 28 interbank transfers totaling $108,000, taking money from his campaign account and using it for personal expenses. “Former Speaker Fox looted his campaign account repeatedly,” said U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha, adding that Fox acted as though his official position on the board of licenses were for sale. Prosecutors say the personal expenses included mortgage payments, car loan payments, his American Express bill and purchases at Tiffany’s, Urban Outfitters, TJ Maxx, Target, Walmart and Warwick Animal Hospital. They say the diverted funds represent about 15 percent of the campaign donations he received, and he overstated the account balance in campaign finance reports to hide his actions from the board of elections. He’s accused of filing false tax returns by knowingly failing to include the personal income he received from the bribe and the fraudulent transfers.

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Fox, once considered among the most powerful politicians in state politics, was forced to resign his speakership after the raids, when federal agents were seen carting out boxes of evidence from his home and office at the Statehouse. The Democrat announced he was stepping down as speaker the following day, but he finished out his term in the House, representing a neighborhood on Providence’s upscale East Side. That term ended in January. Since the raids, investigators have mostly refused to detail what they were looking at. However, other information has trickled out about the investigation and about how Fox managed his campaign finances and business affairs. Continue reading

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Fox is an attorney with a solo law practice and had held a seat in the part-time General Assembly since 1992. He became the state’s first openly gay House speaker in 2010, making a salary of $30,000 annually. He and his husband also owned a Providence hair salon that closed its doors a few months before the raids.

In his law practice, Fox had represented businesses before the city’s board of licenses and performed loan closings. He paid a $1,500 civil fine to the state ethics commission before the raids happened last year for failing to disclose more than $40,000 in loan closing work he did for a Providence economic development agency.

The state board of elections, which enforces campaign finance laws, said it had been contacted by law enforcement about Fox the same day as the raids.

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An Associated Press analysis of his campaign finance records done in May 2014 showed that 90 expense checks out of 1,000 were unaccounted for over a six-year period, with about half of those unaccounted for in 2012 and 2013 alone. Campaign finance records showed that Fox’s campaign account had $244,000 in it as of Sept. 30, 2014.

Fox also had a Statehouse employee doing his campaign books and acted as his own campaign treasurer, practices criticized by watchdog groups.

In June, Fox disclosed to the ethics commission that he had received a personal $10,000 loan from a registered legislative lobbyist in 2009 and had not paid it back over a period of years. He had not disclosed it in any of those years.

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