Recent events in Rhode Island, long reputed to be the seat of organized-crime activity in New England, have upstaged the long-running trial in Boston of alleged La Cosa Nostra leader Gennaro Angiulo, three of his brothers, and another alleged mob member. As the Angiulo trial slogged into its seventh month in US District Court here, regional attention was drawn to several Rhode Island developments involving: the reputed heir to the leadership of the Mafia in New England; the chief justice of the state's Supreme Court; the governor and state attorney general; and news media.
In Boston, federal prosecutors -- relying mostly on secretly taped conversations between the Angiulos and others -- continue to press their case on a score of charges, including murder, loan-sharking, gambling, and racketeering. Recent testimony has indicated that the Angiulos had access to law-enforcement and court personnel, enabling them to influence pending cases against mob members. The testimony indicates that a Boston police detective and a court clerk (recently deceased) may have been involved i n getting gambling charges against mob members dismissed.
Meanwhile, in Providence, R.I., the man who is reputed to have succeeded his father as boss of the Mafia in New England lost a court battle last week. But the ruling handed down Nov. 19 by US District Judge Francis J. Boyle seemed unlikely to affect the activities of Raymond J. Patriarca Jr.
The judge lifted a temporary restraining order he had issued barring the Providence Journal and other news media from publishing material from tapes recorded illegally by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1960s. Conversations recorded in the 1963-65 period implicated the late Raymond L. S. Patriarca in criminal activity. The senior Patriarca passed on in 1984, and the FBI alleges that his son, called ``Junior,'' succeeded him as the top boss of organized crime in the region.
Rhode Island Attorney General Arlene Violet pledged a year ago, shortly before taking office, that Junior Patriarca would be indicted within 12 months. At a recent breakfast meeting with reporters in Providence, Ms. Violet declined to disclose ``what we are or aren't doing relative to Mr. Patriarca.'' But the attorney general cited convictions obtained against a number of mobsters and reiterated that ``ridding Rhode Island of its image as an organized-crime state is a priority of my administration.''
Meanwhile Ms. Violet, Rhode Island Gov. Edward D. DiPrete, and state legislative leaders are seeking the ouster of State Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph A. Bevilacqua because of his admitted association with allegedly mob-connected individuals.
The strange case of Chief Justice Bevilacqua began last June when he was censured by the Rhode Island Commission on Judicial Tenure after a six-month probe of ties to individuals with criminal records. The investigation resulted from newspaper reports that the chief justice socialized with a convicted felon and did business with reputed underworld members. He also was accused of meeting women at a motel owned by men whom authorities linked to drug smuggling and illegal gambling.
Although his conduct on the bench was not questioned, the chief justice agreed to take a four-month, unpaid leave of absence. On Nov. 1, the four months over, he reclaimed his seat on the Supreme Court bench. He has spurned demands by Governor DiPrete, Attorney General Violet, and others that he resign.
Now the state's highest court has to decide whether the Rhode Island General Assembly can remove the chief justice. In arguments before the court Nov. 25, lawyers representing the governor and the attorney general argued that the state supreme court judges serve ``at the whim of the legislature,'' which has the constitutional power to remove them at any time.
Bevilacqua's lawyer questioned the legislature's ability to vacate a justice's seat, arguing that recent changes in legislative procedure superseded that power. The Rhode Island Bar Association, the Civil Liberties Union, and the Sons of Italy also challenged the legislature's power to remove Justice Bevilacqua.
Bevilacqua, who has been chief justice since 1976, has not commented publicly on the controversy and has removed himself from court deliberations on the matter.
In the Patriarca controversy, material published by the Journal and WJAR-TV in Providence was based on tapes made by FBI agents between March 1963 and July 1965, when such ``bugging'' was illegal. (The statute empowering law-enforcement agencies to eavesdrop on suspects after obtaining a court order was enacted in 1969.)
Junior Patriarca was in his late teens when the illegal tapes were made. In seeking a court injunction against media publication of information from notes and typed transcripts based on those tapes, Patriarca's lawyer argued that publication would constitute a violation of his client's Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure, as well as his privacy. The material published by the Journal reflected conversations by the senior Patriarca about his son but contained nothing that would implicate Junior Patriarca in criminal activity.
In his ruling Nov. 19, Judge Boyle said his review of US Supreme Court decisions indicated the high court would decide the media could not be constitutionally prevented from reporting on the tapes.
The Providence Journal continued to publish excerpts from the illegally taped material in defiance of a temporary restraining order by Judge Boyle. Charles McC. Hauser, executive editor of the Journal, explained that the material was published specifically to challenge the judge's ruling. He cited the Journal's right to print based on the First Amendment.
Joseph V. Cavanagh Jr., attorney for WJAR, said the judge's ruling ``was a victory for the press, because it was a very serious question of whether this court would continue to restrain the publication of information which the press had lawfully obtained.''