Chapter 16: Operation Plunder Dome
April 23, 2017
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Dennis Aiken is an FBI agent from Mississippi. Anthony Freitas is a businessman from Portugal. Together, they’re Providence’s best hope in the war on corruption—and they just might take down Buddy Cianci once and for all.
For a full list of credits, and for more information about this episode, visit our website at crimetownshow.com.
DENNIS AIKEN: In ‘94, The FBI asked me where I wanted to go. And what better place to go then back to Rhode Island to finished something that I’d started many years ago. To take a look at Buddy.
MARC SMERLING: This is FBI Agent Dennis Aiken. You might remember him from prior episodes.
Back in the 1970s, when Buddy Cianci was first mayor, Aiken investigated rumors of corruption at City Hall. But by the 80s, Aiken had transferred, and Buddy had been kicked out of office for assaulting a man in his living room.
Now, it’s the 1990s. Buddy’s back... and so is Agent Aiken.
AIKEN: I believed that Buddy was corrupt. And I believed that if I came back here I might could help to fix that.
MARC: And when did Buddy figure out you were back?
AIKEN: When it came to reality for him was when I bumped into him in the Capital Grill. He was walking out and I just happened to be walking in. And I literally almost bumped into him. I looked at him and said, “Hi, Mayor.” And he looked at me as though he thought he’d seen a ghost. And he says, “Oh, you’re back.” I says, “Yeah you know I’m back.” I’d been involved in a lot, a lot of corruption cases using different techniques and I knew that the undercover technique was the best.
MARC: Aiken brought in some undercover agents. They posed as out-of-town businessmen trying to score contracts with the city.
CITY HALL: Good afternoon, Mayor Cianci’s office.
HENRY MARCO (FBI AGENT): Yes is this the mayor’s secretary?
CITY HALL: Yes it is.
MARCO: Yeah, hi. My name is Henry Marco --
CITY HALL: Right, Mr. Marco could you hold on because I’m on an important call right now. Hold on please.
MARCO: Thank you.
AIKEN: That went over like a lead balloon because they didn't know who they were. They weren’t going to get introduced to anybody.
CITY HALL 2: Hi, may I help you.
MARCO: Hello, my name’s Henry Marco. I’m waiting to make an appointment with the mayor. Either Thursday or Friday.
CITY HALL 2: I didn’t hear that, I’ll have to look at my schedule... Gee, Henry, I don’t have anything as a luncheon. Who is this with? What’s taking place?
MARC: The undercover agents weren’t getting anywhere. Nobody at City Hall knew them or trusted them. Agent Aiken needed someone closer to home. Someone brave enough… and maybe crazy enough... to go up against the Mayor.
AIKEN: I was very frustrated and I read a newspaper article about a guy who had tried to get a lease with the city.
MARC: In the article, a local businessman complained about losing a school department contract to park buses in a vacant building he owned. His name was Tony Freitas.
TONY FREITAS Every three years there was a bid…I got a call from the Providence Journal from a reporter. She wanted to do a story about the building, the bids, and she gave me a tip. That I was the low bidder, that I was not going to get it. I didn’t realize they were using me to bid on the property because there was someone else paying bribes. And that’s what get me involved.
MARC: Tony had immigrated from Portugal as a child. He built a successful heating and air-conditioning business. But he always felt like the city’s political insiders looked down on him because of his accent.
FREITAS: It was the nerve that they had to use me. Like, “Oh he has an accent he must be stupid.”
AIKEN: So I decided, I’m gonna go see this guy Freitas. Didn’t know him. I had no idea what he would say to me. Didn’t know anything about him and just called him up and said, “I want to come see you.”
FREITAS: I got a call from the FBI. I says, “Good, what took you so long, come over.”
AIKEN: And it was one of the most amazing conversations I’ve ever had in the Bureau. Tony’s a different, different guy so I asked him if he’d talk to me some more, he said, “I've got a better idea. What if I put on a wire?” He was the first guy ever that asked to put on a wire.
FREITAS: I says, “Ok I want to go undercover, I want to get these cockroaches.”
AIKEN: He says, “Yeah yeah.” He says, “We’ll clean up the city.”
MARC: Dennis Aiken and Tony Freitas made for an odd couple. But Aiken was desperate for an undercover operative. And Tony was itching to go undercover.
ZAC STUART-PONTIER: Today’s episode: an unlikely duo… the FBI agent from Mississippi and a Portuguese air-conditioning contractor join forces to take on Buddy Cianci.
I’m Zac Stuart Pontier.
MARC: I’m Marc Smerling.
Welcome to Crimetown.
BUDDY, STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS: Thank you all very much please be seated as I was walking in one of the directors of one of our community centers said to me it’s Washington’s birthday and I said, I can’t tell a lie and I won’t today.
MARC: This is Mayor Buddy Cianci, delivering a state of the city address at City Hall.
BUDDY: As we prepare for the new century, Providence is rediscovering her greatness. Our generation is transforming this city so completely that native sons returning after a long journey can hardly recognize the city of their birth. Riverfront parkways, ornamental fountains, and festive street lamps...
MARC: By 1998, Buddy’s renovation of downtown Providence was in full swing. They called it a renaissance. To a lot of people, Buddy was a hero. But not to FBI agent Dennis Aiken.
AIKEN: Of course my first question: What's Buddy really up to? He was getting a lot of publicity a lot of it was self-generated. They were talking about a mall. Providence Place Mall. It was the Renaissance City. But everything was just not as it really seemed to be. The city was broke. it didn't take much research to realize that everything was on a credit card.
MARC: To find out what Buddy was really up to, Agent Aiken launched an investigation. He called it Operation Plunder Dome.
MARC: Who came up with the name Plunder Dome?
AIKEN: It was a combination of a lot of things. I was looking at the dome on the city hall. I wanted to use dome and I was thinking of the Mad Max's Thunderdome. So we came up with Plunder Dome. It was the stupidest name I ever came up with. I'm telling you, it stuck.
MARC: Corruption investigations like Plunder Dome can be complicated. Agent Aiken knew he would have to follow up on every lead, work every possible angle...and follow the money.
AIKEN: You have the mayor, then you have the director of administration who runs the day-to-day operations of the city and then you have the tax collector, the tax assessor, right. I’m paying taxes, where’s the money flowing, the tax collector and the tax assessor. So we decided to focus there because that would get us closer to everybody else.
MARC: And luckily, Agent Aiken’s partner, Tony Freitas, knew just where to start. He had already had a run-in with the chairman of the tax assessment review board: a guy named Joe Pannone.
AIKEN: He says, “Joe Pannone tried to shake me down and I wouldn't pay him.” So I told Tony, “Let’s call Joe back. And tell him that you’ve seen the light, and although you wouldn’t pay before, you’ve learned.
TAPE JOE PANNONE: Hello.
TAPE FREITAS : Hey good morning Joseph.
TAPE JOE: Good morning, how are you.
TAPE FREITAS : Ok, buddy.
TAPE JOE: Ok buddy, who’s this?
TAPE FREITAS: Tony.
TAPE JOE: What are you doin”?
MARC: This is an FBI wiretap of a conversation between Tony Freitas and Joe Pannone.
TAPE FREITAS: Here’s why I’m worried. One of the properties, I have never, never received a tax bill.
MARC: Tony tells Joe Pannone that he hasn’t received his property tax bill and he’s worried about late penalties.
TAPE FREITAS: Maybe we can do something with somebody, I don’t know, you know better than me. You tell me what to do, you know.
MARC: Tony plays dumb. And, right away, Pannone offers to help.
TAPE PANNONE: Well whenever you want to go down City Hall I can get you right in, that’s the point.
TAPE PANNONE: Stop in Tuesday, City Hall.
TAPE FREITAS: Tuesday at City Hall?
TAPE PANNONE: Yeah I’m in the –
MARC: Then, Joe Pannone takes the bait.
TAPE PANNONE: Well I don’t want them to see you with me, damn it.
MARC: Instead, Pannone says he’ll stop by Tony’s air conditioning business in the morning, where they can have a private chat. For FBI agent Aiken, that means it's time to upgrade the operation from phone tapping...to hidden cameras.
AIKEN: Tony had a basement in his business and it was the perfect place to make movies. And we wired it for sound and video. It was probably wired better than what you have here. It was certainly more discrete.
TAPE AIKEN: Tony, the recorder’s on right now.
TAPE FREITAS: Yeah.
MARC: The video is grainy and black and white. It shows a small basement office, with just a desk and a few chairs. Tony and Agent Aiken are preparing to make their first movie...starring Joe Pannone.
TAPE AIKEN: And what we’re doing is, we just want to say that today is Tuesday, May the 26th, and we’re waiting for a meeting between Anthony Freitas and Joe Pannone.
TAPE FREITAS: Ok, good enough.
MARC: Then Agent Aiken walks out of frame.
AIKEN: There was a closet that I would go in and I could watch the conversation on video and I could hear it.
TAPE FREITAS: Have a seat. And uh..
TAPE PANNONE: Well, see with your property, what I am going to try to do. Tony...I'm going to tell you what I am going to try to do.
MARC: Joe Pannone steps into frame. He looks like an old Italian grandpa. And right away, he starts teaching Tony how to bilk the system:
TAPE PANNONE: When you are having trouble with tax bills or something, call me.
TAPE FREITAS: Oh alright. Whatever. Hey Joe, Whatever you say.
TAPE PANNONE: I’ll help you all I can.
TAPE FREITAS: Oh, I'm learning. You my boss now. I mean you teaching me. You my teacher. You know what I...teaching me. You’re my teacher...remember you told me “bullshit walks, money talks,” Hey, I got a good teacher. I’m learning from you.
MARC: Like the wiseguys on Federal Hill, corrupt city officials speak in code. They never say ‘bribe…’ or ask for cash directly. Instead, they dance around it. In this recording, Joe Pannone tells Tony that he can help him with his real estate taxes, if you know what I mean.
TAPE PANNONE: Cause you know I can take care of that. Don't ever strap yourself to pay a fucking bill. You know what I mean? Pannone will take care of this one. You know what I'm trying to say?
MARC: Tony knows what Joe Pannone’s trying to say. So, he offers him a deposit...
TAPE FREITAS: I want to give you a deposit, because I don’t know how much you’re going to take care of me for that property over there, ok. $500 bucks alright for now?
TAPE PANNONE: Yeah, yeah.
MARC: Now, Tony deliberately counts out five one hundred dollar bills...right in front of the camera.
TAPE FREITAS: One, two, three, four, five.
MARC: And Pannone puts the $500 in his pocket. The whole thing had gone off without a hitch. And Tony Freitas wanted his luck to continue.
FREITAS: My first day I wore the wire, I did wear certain underwear and everything went fine. And then from that day on I kept that same underwear handy. It was my lucky underwear, ok.
AIKEN: I seem to remember that he had some lucky underwear. Yeah, I don't want to get into those details with him.
TAPE AIKEN: Yeah it’s on. Today’s date is July 30, 1998, I’m special agent Dennis Aiken here with Anthony Freitas. We’re going to video and audio record a meeting with Joe Pannone...
MARC: Tony started to meet more and more frequently with Joe Pannone.
TAPE FREITAS: Come in, come in.
TAPE Pannone: Providence Police. Ha ha.
TAPE FREITAS: How are you, Uncle joe.
FREITAS: I started calling him Uncle Joe. He felt comfortable.
TAPE FREITAS: Are you comfortable down here?
TAPE PANNONE: Oh yeah. I’m trying to let you understand, these things are confidential, between me and you. I trust you and I trust me, you know what I mean?
AIKEN: Tony, he was a good talker. He would look you in the eye when he talked to you and most importantly he was a very good bullshitter. Ok? And I needed a good bullshitter.
TAPE FREITAS: This one’s for you, Uncle Joe.
TAPE PANNONE: Ok, alright.
TAPE FREITAS: One, two, three. four, five.
TAPE PANNONE: You don’t have to, you know.
TAPE FREITAS: Oh no I want to take care of my friends. You’ve been good to me, you’ve been good to me.
AIKEN: Pannone wanted cash. So we paid him cash and we paid him more than once.
Some people said, well why don’t you arrest Pannone. No no no...
MARC: Agent Aiken was hoping that...with all those payoffs...Uncle Joe would lead them to the mayor.
AIKEN: Joe would start talking about Buddy and how he liked the money.
TAPE PANNONE: He likes where the money is.
TAPE FREITAS: Uh-huh.
TAPE PANNONE: If you ain't go no money, he don't want to bother with you.
TAPE FREITAS: I see.
TAPE PANNONE: Capische?
TAPE FREITAS: Yea, you see I am new to this stuff.
TAPE PANNONE: Yea see you uh, you hand him an envelope with $500 and say use this for your campaign. You know what I mean. That's the way you do things. That's the way the game is played. Money.
TAPE FREITAS: Campaign, for the campaign, I see.
TAPE PANNONE: Money.
TAPE FREITAS: I see. Does that money ever make it to the Mayor's campaign.
TAPE PANNONE: Well I don't know where the hell it goes.
AIKEN: I thought I was in heaven.
PRODUCER: How was your relationship with Tony evolving, like, were you becoming friends?
AIKEN: Oh yeah we were friends. There's no doubt about it. I'm living with the guy basically. I'm talking to him every day. I'm seeing him every day, seven days a week, trying to hold him together. He had a very very difficult job. He was going undercover with no training and no experience. He was under a tremendous amount of pressure.
MARC: And the pressure was about to get even worse. They couldn’t depend on Uncle Joe alone to take them to the mayor. They needed to open another front in the investigation. Agent Aiken had heard that another tax board member was laundering cash for bribes. So Tony got Uncle Joe to make an introduction.
FREITAS: Then he introduces me to what I call Cousin David Ead. David Ead was another story. He was scary. He was an ex-police officer.
MARC: David Ead owned a vending machine company. And, he ran a money laundering scheme. Here’s how it worked: if you needed cash, say to pay a bribe, you could write a check to Ead’s company. Then Ead would take a small cut and give you the cash back. So...Ead became Agent Aiken’s second target.
TAPE AIKEN: Today’s date is January 15, 1999. This is a Citizen’s Bank check number 607658791-1 the amount of $5,850, that Anthony Freitas is going to provide to Dave Ead. Right?
TAPE FREITAS: Yep. Dave Ead.
MARC: In the video, Tony walks into Ead’s shop. He’s wired, and he has a camera hidden in his briefcase. You can see Tony weaving through a maze of soda machines. He comes upon Ead sitting behind his desk in the back office.
AIKEN: I called David Jabba the hut...he looked and acted like and talked like Jabba the Hut.
MARC: Like Uncle Joe, Ead takes Tony under his wing, schooling him on how to... not... talk about bribes:
TAPE DAVID EAD: Any time you talk to me on the telephone don’t mention anything about a check. Say you’ll be up with that thing. This thing and that thing. Things mean money. We understand that. Because you never know who’s fucking listening to these phones today. You always want to stay ahead of the game. I’m just giving you some concrete advice you know.
TAPE FREITAS: Joe has told me some but you know something –
TAPE EAD: When I talk to Joe I say I got the pizza here it just came. He knows what I’m talking about
TAPE FREITAS: Yeah.
TAPE EAD: Nothing surprises me today…
MARC: Ead puts out his hand. And Tony hands over the cashier’s check.
TAPE EAD: Oh you got a cashier’s check. That’s better.
TAPE FREITAS: This is better?
TAPE EAD: Sure. Cashier’s check.
MARC: A few days later, Ead shows up at Tony’s office and gives him four thousand dollars in laundered cash…
TAPE FREITAS: Hey, hey there he is.
TAPE EAD: How you feeling.
TAPE FREITAS: Have a seat. This is what, the $4000.
TAPE EAD: Why don’t you put it in your drawer.
MARC: Now, Agent Aiken and Tony Freitas had captured two members of the tax board on video taking bribes and laundering cash. But they were still far from the mayor’s office.
They needed to move up the food chain. And one day, Uncle Joe offered an opportunity to do just that.
TAPE FREITAS: Who’s making these decisions… the mayor?
TAPE PANNONE: The Mayor… Why don’t you make an appointment to sit down with him.
TAPE FREITAS: Yeah but Joe, if anybody knows him, it’s you…
TAPE PANNONE: I’m gonna set up an appointment with Frank Corrente. That way you go face to face with him. You understand?
TAPE FREITAS: Frank sets me up with the mayor… or you do that?
TAPE PANNONE: He does that. You gotta knock on his door first before you get to the other one...
MARC: Frank Corrente. Buddy Cianci’s director of administration. Number two in charge at City Hall.
AIKEN: Joe was talking about how Frank was taking money.
FREITAS: You have Buddy, and Buddy had Frank Corrente. Frank Corrente was the bagman to take the money and give it to Buddy.
TAPE PANNONE: Corrente's the in between.
TAPE FREITAS: Joe.
TAPE PANNONE: Just like I'm the in between man. You know what I mean?
TAPE FREITAS: And that money goes down to who from Corrente?
TAPE PANNONE: The fucking mayor, the mayor, it goes to the mayor.
TAPE PANNONE: I’m trying to educate you. Frank’s the front man.
TAPE FREITAS: So in other words he keeps Frank and you between him as a buffer zone. But of course, that money gets to him finally.
TAPE FREITAS: So Frank gives it to him, obviously.
TAPE JOE: Of course, of course. Yeah. That's the way the game’s played.
MARC: Frank Corrente. He would be target number three. And just maybe, he’d be the one to lead Dennis Aiken to Buddy Cianci. That’s coming up… after the break.
MARC: Welcome back. Before the break, FBI Agent Dennis Aiken and local businessman Tony Freitas had teamed up in an undercover operation. Their first target was a local tax official, “Uncle” Joe Pannone, then came a money launderer “Cousin” David Ead… And now, they were setting their sights on the mayor’s second in command, the director of administration. Frank Corrente.
AIKEN: We had to come up with some scheme to get to Frank. The scheme to get to Frank was, we wanted to rent some property to the school department. Tony had tried that before and it didn’t work and Tony was gonna go to Frank to get his help.
MARC: With an introduction from Uncle Joe, Tony went to City Hall to meet Frank:
TAPE FREITAS: Good morning...good to see you again. Joe Pannone set up this appointment regarding my situation over there.
FREITAS: Frank was very cautious. He was talking to me and touching me to see if I had a wire.
TAPE FREITAS: ...and I was the low bidder for the school department, I don’t know what happened but they went right over me.
MARC: In the video, Frank brushes Tony off, saying there’s nothing he can do to help.
TAPE FRANK CORRENTE: They’re the only people who can help you, the school board. They made the decision. Not us. We don’t even know what’s going on. We have our own problems when you try to help people.
TAPE FREITAS: Cause the perception out there is you have to come to City Hall.
TAPE CORRENTE: Bullshit. Bullshit. When it comes to the school department...
MARC: So Tony goes back to Uncle Joe and he complains that Frank blew him off.
TAPE PANNONE: Hello?
TAPE FREITAS: Good morning Joseph.
TAPE PANNONE: Good morning Tony.
TAPE FREITAS: Listen
TAPE PANNONE: What?
TAPE FREITAS: That meeting the other day...
TAPE PANNONE: Yea?
TAPE FREITAS: With Frank –
TAPE PANNONE: Yea
TAPE FREITAS: It didn't go too good.
MARC: Uncle Joe promised to help. And a few days later, he stopped by... with some good news.
TAPE PANNONE: You're lucky you know me.
TAPE FREITAS: Ah.
TAPE PANNONE: You're lucky you know me.
TAPE FREITAS: How are you?
TAPE PANNONE: Now this...I talked to Frank yesterday. Right?
TAPE FREITAS: Oh. You went to see him.
TAPE PANNONE: Sure I went to see him.
TAPE PANNONE: I said, "You can trust Tony. Don't worry." I said, "I trust him."
TAPE FREITAS: Yea. Yea. Yea.
TAPE PANNONE: I told him about the school department. I said, can’t we get him with the school department, for Christ’s sake.
MARC: Then, Tony got a visit from the school department. Suddenly they were interested in renting his building.
So Tony called Frank to tell him the good news.
TAPE SECRETARY: Providence City Hall.
TAPE FREITAS: Hi, Mr Corrente’s office please.
TAPE CORRENTE: Tony, Frank Corrente.
TAPE FREITAS: Hey Frank how are you. Frank, I’d like to stop by quickly to see you because I think something is happening over here.
TAPE CORRENTE: Where, the rental?
TAPE FREITAS: Yeah, they came to see the place.
TAPE CORRENTE: Oh, that’s good. Alright come to see whenever you want.
TAPE FREITAS: Ok buddy. Thanks. Bye.
MARC: Time to pay Frank Corrente another visit. And by pay, I mean… pay…
So Tony pulled up his lucky underwear, put on a wire and got ready to go to City Hall.
TAPE AIKEN: I’m Dennis Aiken here with Anthony Freitas. Here’s $1,000, ten $100 bills, for Frank Corrente. Ok so we went over what you’re gonna do when you see him.
TAPE FREITAS: Good enough.
TAPE AIKEN: And don’t forget to turn this on when you get over there.
MARC: Tony had his tiny camera in his briefcase...and an envelope full of cash in his pocket.
TAPE FREITAS: Coming up these stairs, it’s murder.
TAPE CORRENTE: Why? A young guy like you for Christ’s sakes should be able to run them up.
TAPE FREITAS: Listen. I showed them the lease. They are very happy.
MARC: In the video, Tony sets the briefcase on a chair. The camera points at Frank, sitting behind a desk. The phone rings constantly, and Frank picks up every call. When Tony gets his attention, he tells Frank that the school department is ready to lease his property -- all they need is final approval.
TAPE FREITAS: They said they clear everything with downtown, however, they have to send a letter downtown uh, for like this is what it is, final approval…
TAPE CORRENTE: Yeah, well. They, they ...
TAPE FREITAS: So I appreciate whatever you can do.
TAPE CORRENTE: Oh,...don't worry. It's going to come to -- they gotta go to the school department.
MARC: Frank tells Tony that he knows just who to call to seal the deal, a guy named Mark Dunham, who was head of finance for the Providence school department.
TAPE CORRENTE: I'm going to talk to Mark Dunham. He's my key. You know Mark Dunham?
TAPE FREITAS: Dunham. Yea. Alright.
TAPE CORRENTE: He handles all that shit.
TAPE FRITAS: He's your guy.
TAPE CORRENTE: He handles all that shit.
TAPE CORRENTE: I'll just tell him what I got to do.
TAPE FREITAS: Well ...
TAPE CORRENTE: You understand me?
TAPE FREITAS: Well, listen. I really appreciate.
MARC: Tony holds out the envelope filled with cash. And Frank...looks surprised.
TAPE CORRENTE: What the fuck are you doing? It's not necessary. Do you hear me?
TAPE FREITAS: Frank, I appreciate.
TAPE CORRENTE: Do you hear me?
MARC: But...Tony had been prepped that this would be Frank’s reaction:
FREITAS: Joe Pannone, tell me, “When you see Frank he’s going to say ‘no no no it’s not necessary.’ So when he says ‘no no no’ that means ‘Yes yes give it to me. So he’s never going to say ‘Ok let me have that’ he’s going to always say ‘no no that’s not necessary.’ So when he does that, it’s safe to give him the money.”
MARC: So Tony continues undeterred. While Frank takes another phone call, Tony opens the envelope, shows Frank the money inside, then places it on the desk. Still on the phone, Frank casually picks up the envelope, slides open his desk drawer, and drops it inside.
Frank finally hangs up. And without saying a word to Tony, he buzzes his secretary and asks for Mark Dunham, the head of finance for the school department
TAPE SECRETARY: Yeah Frank..
TAPE CORRENTE: Give me Mark Dunham.
TAPE SECRETARY: OK.
TAPE CORRENTE: Yes. Hello. Mark. How are you? It's my understanding that Marriott is interested in that Carol Bakery.
MARC: Tony’s property is known as the “Carol Bakery.” And “Marriott” is the company that handles leases for the school department. Frank is telling Mark Dunham that it’s his understanding that Marriott is interested in leasing Tony’s property.
TAPE CORRENTE: OK. Yea. Do you have any objection? That's a good idea. Yea. OK. Very good. Thank You. Bye.
TAPE FREITAS: What did he say?
TAPE CORRENTE: See. I'm smart. I know how to talk. I said, "Do you got any objections?" He says, "No." I said, "Well, I think it's a good idea."
TAPE FREITAS: Uncle Frank.
TAPE CORRENTE: See, I don't say do it. I just have to say it's a good idea.
MARC: Did you catch that? When Frank says something’s a good idea...he means, do it.
TAPE CORRENTE: Alright.
TAPE FREITAS: That's what I wanted. Talk to you later. I'll see you Frank.
MARC: Tony’s lucky underwear was now 3 for 3. Three city officials on tape, taking bribes and laundering money. But Frank Corrente hadn’t done what they’d hoped He hadn’t led them to the mayor. So they found another way.
Remember David Ead, the guy who owned the vending machine company? He was high up in the local Democratic party and he’d been close with Buddy for a long time...
TAPE EAD: I’ve been around 25 years. Him and I have been buddies for 25 years.
TAPE FREITAS: Right, right, right...
TAPE EAD:I go direct. Any time I have to do business with the mayor I go direct to the mayor. FREITAS: So you may be one of the handfuls.
TAPE EAD: If I can’t go to the mayor, who can I go to?
TAPE FREITAS: He was the only go who could walk into the mayor’s office. He would go in, talk to the mayor, and the mayor trusted him.
MARC: So Agent Aiken had to come up with yet another scheme.
AIKEN: You have to come up with reasons to talk to these people. You just can’t go and pay -- here’s a bribe, can I call you in the future. It looks suspicious so my biggest challenge was to come up with things to pay for. I'd heard that you had to pay bribes in order to buy property from the city. So we literally drove around and found a piece of property that we said we would try to buy because Ead was saying that he could pay the mayor to do that. So we told Dave we wanted to buy the property. Dave thought it was a great idea.
TAPE FREITAS: These two lots are behind the Calenda…
TAPE EAD: Right here. These two. Lot 429 and lot 450.
TAPE FREITAS: Yeah those two are behind the Calenda property…and those are the two --
TAPE EAD: The city owns.
TAPE FREITAS: The city owns it. I mean it’s worth $2000 --
TAPE EAD: You want to buy this from the city?
TAPE FREITAS: Yeah
TAPE EAD: How much you want to pay for the land?
TAPE FREITAS: Whatever they say I should pay.
TAPE EAD: Close the door. How much do you want to give for the man downtown.
MARC: “How much do you want to give for the man downtown.” Ead is asking Tony, how much money he wants to give to Buddy Cianci.
TAPE FREITAS: You tell me, $3000, $2000.
TAPE EAD: I have no idea.
TAPE FREITAS: How much should I give him, you tell me, I never did this before.
TAPE EAD: Give him $5000 and you give him $1000 a piece for the lots
TAPE FREITAS: OK.
TAPE EAD: I’ll go down and see him, tell him…
AIKEN: We thought this was finally our in. That he was gonna talk to the mayor and he says, “I’m gonna go have a meeting with the mayor and we’re going to discuss how to do this, and I’m going to tell the mayor you’re gonna give him some money.” We did a surveillance and found out he did have the meeting. We watched the people that he claimed the mayor called to the meeting, go into the meeting.
MARC: A few days later, Ead called Tony on the phone and told him about that meeting. Ead said that the city lots Tony wanted were priced at $10,000 each. But, as always, Buddy was willing to make a deal.
TAPE EAD: “This is the deal.” He said, “Alright I’ll tell you what, tell him I’ll give him the lots for $1,000 a piece, no problem ok.
MARC: And what was Buddy’s end of the deal?
TAPE EAD: But he don’t want $5,000. He wants $10.
MARC: “He wants ten.” Ead is saying that Buddy wants a $10,000 bribe to lower the price of the lots to $1000 each. This way, Tony would pay just $12,000, rather than $20,000. Everybody wins.
TAPE EAD: When I bring the big ten down to him. “This is from Anthony Freitas.” The doors will be open for you like you can’t believe.
TAPE FREITAS: I don’t mind giving the mayor ten grand, ok.
TAPE FREITAS: I don’t mind paying the bribe or whatever you call this shit, I’m not used to this.
TAPE EAD: I don’t want to mention it no more. Don’t mention it.
TAPE FREITAS: Whatever.
TAPE EAD: We understand.
AIKEN: And we were gonna give the money to take it downtown and the goal was to follow David with the money and hopefully have a microphone and camera in the mayor’s office when it took place. And we were ready to go, we were in. This was gonna work.
MARC: But then...
AIKEN: David threw us a curveball.
MARC: A few days later, David Ead visited Tony at his business.
TAPE EAD: I can’t receive any cash, legally, so I’m gonna return your money…
TAPE FREITAS: Dave.
TAPE EAD: Listen to me.
AIKEN: David Ead got down there and started saying how everything he had told Tony in the past was a lie.
TAPE EAD: So I’m gonna return your $1200 to you. And if you want to hire me and pay me a check and take out the wages, that’s ok…
AIKEN: He didn't have the right to take the money but I’m going to give that money back. Just crazy talk. Like, he was obviously afraid.
MARC: Even worse, Ead denies he has any relationship with the mayor.
TAPE EAD: Number two, there’s no big guy involved here. I was testing you out. Ok. There’s no big guy...
AIKEN: I just watched my case crumble in front of my eyes.
TAPE EAD: ...Ok, there’s no big guy involved. You’re on your own to do this thing right just follow the rules and you’re all set. I was just testing you out. I wanted to see what type of person you are I didn’t know you, you know, I wanted to see if that got around. You know, that’s all. You don’t have to worry, I was just testing you out on the big guy. There’s no big guy. There’s no ten grand to give nobody. So you don’t have to worry about that, you can save that.
TAPE FREITAS: You know this whole thing has gotten… I’m ticked off, pissed off, whatever you want to call it. I’m going to take a week off to relax.
AIKEN: Tony talked to him long enough to where he said, “Follow me to my car.”
TAPE EAD: Walk me to my car, I want to tell you something.
AIKEN: I didn’t know what David was gonna do to Tony. I was concerned about Tony going up there and I knew he wasn’t gonna get in the car with him cause I told Tony, “If you get in the car, I can’t help you.” And luckily i had another recording device sitting on the table it was disguised as a pager. And Tony picked up that pager and put it on his belt. And he walked up to the car with David.
TAPE FREITAS: ...you got my word on that.
AIKEN: And they were standing outside the car and David says, “I got a call from a woman.”
TAPE EAD: I got a call from a woman at night at my office. She said, “Watch out for Anthony Freitas, he’s working for the FBI.”
AIKEN: Now there's three people in that building. Me, Tony and David Ead, and I knew David Ead was known to carry a gun every once and awhile.
TAPE FREITAS: I saw his hand grabbing the gun.
MARC: Tony has to think fast. Say something to defuse the situation...
TAPE FREITAS: And I see the gun, I says, “Put that thing away...don’t start with this shit with me.” I said, “I don’t work for the FBI. I work for the CIA.”
TAPE FREITAS: Say Anthony works for the CIA...that was a good one...
MARC: And this strange joke… it seems to work.
AIKEN: And it totally calmed David down. And he says, “I knew it wasn’t true.” This type of thing.
TAPE FREITAS: That was a good one... I’ll see you.
MARC: Who do you think blew it for you?
AIKEN: I was concerned about an agent in our office. I have my suspicions. And that’s when we decided to bring, we had to bring the case down. It got too dangerous for Tony. And the odds of us getting to the mayor were zero. So we went, we put together a raid team.
MARC: On April 28, 1999, the FBI made their move. They arrested Joe Pannone and David Ead. And dozens of agents stormed into City Hall.
ARCHIVAL: A scandal erupted at City Hall in Providence. 76-year-old Joseph Pannone and 57-year-old David Ead are charged with four counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
MARC: Eventually, they indicted Frank Corrente too. But they still didn’t have the mayor … not yet. They were hoping to turn up evidence against him in the raid, and to get people like Pannone, Ead and Corrente to flip. For now, Agent Aiken had to settle for delivering the bad news to Buddy…in person.
AIKEN: I went to his house and I knocked on his door over on Power St. And he comes to the door and he clearly wasn't expecting me. He says, “Oh Agent Aiken.” I said, “Buddy, how ya doin? Can we talk?” He says, “Oh you still in town.” I says, “You know I'm still in town.” So I went in and he said, “What's going on?” I said, “Well right now I've got 50 agents swarming into City Hall.” And he looked truly shocked. And he said, “Well what's that about?” I said, “Well we're investigating corruption.” He says, “Well who's involved?” I said, “I'd like to talk to you about that.”
And I said, I'm sure you're curious as to what's going on, so if you're curious maybe you want to talk to me.” I was just torturing the guy, right. He wanted to talk to me so bad he couldn't stand it. He says, “Well maybe I'll sit down with you. But…”
Well, I've decided not to talk to you because, I might say something to you or tell you something that's contradicted later by somebody else.
MARC: And what did Buddy have to say about all this? Here he is talking to the co-author of his autobiography.
BUDDY: Dennis Aiken, he’s a bullshitter. He’s a guy looking to make a name for himself. Look was there corruption in the city? Absolutely. Was there corruption in Boston, yeah, corruption in Philadelphia, name a city there isn’t corruption in. But was I involved in it, to this day to my grave, absolutely not.
ZAC: Next time on Crimetown: Buddy Cianci finally goes on trial.
BUDDY: I didn’t do this stuff. I’m not guilty of this stuff and I’m gonna fight it as long as I can, as hard as I can.
MARC: Crimetown is me, Marc Smerling, and Zac Stuart-Pontier.
We are produced by Austin Mitchell, Drew Nelles, Kaitlin Roberts, and Mike Plunkett. Our associate producer is Laura Sim.
We’re edited by Alex Blumberg and Caitlin Kenney.
Fact-checking by Mick Rouse.
This episode of Crimetown was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Kenny Kusiak and Matthew Boll.
Additional mixing by Enoch Kim and Martin Peralta.
Our title track is “Run To Your Mama” by Goat.
Original music by John Kusiak, Kenny Kusiak, Jon Ivans, Edwin and Bienart.
Our ad music is by Matthew Boll.
Our digital editor is Rob Szypko. Our design director is Ale Lariu.
Alex Blumberg is The Podfather… I seem to remember he has some lucky underwear… but I don’t want to get into those details with him.
This season of Crimetown is dedicated to the memory of Bill Malinowski.
Thanks to the the Providence Journal, Julia Heymans, Emily Wiedemann, Annie Muire, Lisa Newby, Kate Wells, Mary Murphy, Dan Barry, Mike Stanton — check out his book, The Prince of Providence — and everybody who shared their stories with us.
For a full list of credits, bonus content, and to sign up for our new newsletter, visit our website at crimetownshow.com.
You can find us on Twitter @crimetown, and on Facebook and Instagram @crimetownshow.
And if you’re enjoying Crimetown, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps others find out about the show. Thanks.
And to become a Gimlet member, sign up at gimletmedia.com/join. If you sign up for a full year you can get a great Crimetown T-Shirt.
Providence is a special place, and we're honored to tell a part of its story.
FREITAS: So that's 100 buddy, 2, 300.
PANNONE: Put in my pocket so nobody can see it.
FREITAS: Nobody will see it.
PANNONE: Alright okay.
FREITAS: Okay. Do you want to lick it? Lick it?
PANNONE: It’s alright. I don't want nobody to see it. It ain't for him, no nosy people, you know.