US Attorney Peter Neronha says the sentencing this week of former Central Falls mayor Charles Moreau is a stark reminder of a blinkered view of public service held by a string of corrupt Rhode Island politicians.
"In the wake of the Moreau sentencing, I was really struck by this: that in Rhode Island there seems to be this notion that if you're a really good guy in your personal life, that buys you some benefit in your public life," Neronha said in an interview. "And I disagree with that, respectfully. I just disagree with that viewpoint."
"I don't care how good a person you are in your personal life. When you take that oath of office and you hold up your hand and you swear to serve the public -- as I did, as US Attorney -- then your job is to execute your oath honestly and diligently and serve the people, and not yourself.
"So when it comes time for sentencing, I'm not all that interested, frankly, in how great a guy you are in your personal life. You took the oath, you stepped up, you wanted the job. It's not that difficult do the right thing. I mean, if you're instinct can't tell you what's right or wrong, then you probably shouldn't in the job in the first place."
Neronha says contractor Michael Bouthillette's offering of something for nothing in Moreau's case, with what a clear financial motivation hanging in the balance, should have made it easy to say, " 'No, I'm going to pay for that furnace. I'm going to pay for those repairs. The fact that you got these contracts [to board up foreclosed homes in Central Falls] has nothing to do with what you're going to do for me.' "
"That to me is not a hard concept," Neronha adds. "That's something that our school children know. That's something that your average person on the street knows, and it certainly should be something that a politician, or an elected official, or an appointed official should know."
Other Rhode Island politicians convicted of corruption-related charges over the last decade or s0 include former state senator John Celona, former House majority leader Gerry Martineau, former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci, and a string of municipal officials in North Providence.