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FBI shadow looms large, then and now - New federal investigation targets a wary City Hall

Republican, The (Springfield, MA) (Published as Union-News (Springfield, MA)) - September 9, 2001

Author/Byline: JACK FLYNN; STAFF, Sunday Republican (Springfield)


Edition: ALL
Section: News
Page: A01
People are very concerned about what's going on and who's going to be next. But they don't want to know too much, either. They're
keeping their heads down.
City official
New federal investigation
targets a wary City Hall
Probe:
Inquiry targets wary City Hall
SPRINGFIELD - Twenty minutes before closing time Friday, City Hall seemed strangely serene.
Twenty minutes before closing time Friday, City Hall seemed strangely serene.
The hallway outside Mayor Michael J. Albano's office was silent. The Community Development Department and Law Department offices
were nearly deserted. Downstairs, the only sound in the employee lounge was the humming of soda and juice machines.
Moments of tranquility have been in short supply at City Hall lately since FBI agents began walking the halls, flashing credentials and
handing out subpoenas.
After months of rumors, speculation and gossip about a secret city corruption investigation, the FBI has gone public - papering four city
agencies with subpoenas for hundreds of thousands of documents during the past two and a half weeks.
The most sweeping subpoena was delivered to the License Commission, which must turn over three file cabinets full of liquor license
records dating back to 1996. The estimated copying time: four weeks.
Federal investigators also gave subpoenas to three community development officials and two city job training agencies - the
Massachusetts Career Development Institute and the Hampden County Employment and Training Consortium.
The volley of subpoenas has provided ammunition for the city's mayoral race, with Albano's challenger, state Rep. Paul E. Caron,
promising that FBI agents will never prowl City Hall during his administration. Without the public corruption probe, several political
observers doubt Caron, a 10-term legislator, would have entered the mayor's race.
Albano supporters are quick to point out that nobody has been indicted, much less convicted, in the corruption probe. They also note that
every piece of paper subpoenaed was a public document, available to anyone who asked.
"They (the FBI) didn't need a subpoena," said City Solicitor Peter P. Fenton, whose office is overseeing the copying of the records. "Any
member of the public could have come in and looked at these same records."
Another top city official expressed doubts that the FBI will find any wrongdoing, and questioned the timing of the subpoenas. "There's
some disappointment (in City Hall) that it happened when it did, right in the middle of a mayor's race. It seems pretty political."
Whatever its motivation, the subpoena spree marked the first public confirmation that Springfield has joined the roster of New England
cities being targeted by federal anti-corruption efforts.
While details of the probe remain sketchy, the FBI is looking for evidence of influence-peddling, payoffs and other possible crimes by
current and former public officials, according to sources familiar with the case.
In Providence, R.I., and Bridgeport and Waterbury, Conn., federal prosecutors have secured guilty pleas in several bribery and kickback
cases, and are preparing for trials in others, most notably Providence's Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci Jr.
Like his friend Cianci, Albano began selling coffee and pasta sauce in a bid to raise both his political profile and dollars for charity. And

like Cianci, Albano has denounced corruption rumors as politically motivated and anti-Italian.
But unlike Cianci, Albano has not been linked to his city's corruption investigation, though several Albano allies have drawn scrutiny,
according to sources familiar with the case.
Albano, who once faced Cianci in a pasta sauce bake-off at the Big E, has made no public comment on Cianci's legal troubles.
But in a sign of how touchy things have become at City Hall, a picture of the Providence mayor was taken down from the Community
Development office in April. The day before, Cianci and five of his top aides had been indicted on a slew of corruption charges in the socalled Operation Plunder Dome scandal.
At Springfield City Hall, stakes are high for more than just Albano. Many, if not all, of the mayor's department heads may lose their jobs if
Albano loses the election. And city employees may face the expense of hiring lawyers if they are called before the grand jury.
Sources said two community development staffers - RaeAnn Altro, the director of operations and compliance, and Kathleen Bonneau, a
fiscal officer - were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury.
Kathleen A. Lingenberg, the city's director of housing and neighborhood services, also received a subpoena for any city records relating
to the Old Hill Neighborhood Council, sources said. FBI agents seized records from the neighborhood improvement group in August,
following Union-News reports about its spending and record-keeping practices.
The subpoenas delivered to MCDI and the city training consortium also related to Old Hill, which received funding from both agencies,
according to sources.
Altro and Bonneau did not return calls seeking comment, and Lingenberg referred questions to Fenton, who said the city had no comment.
The Sunday Republican first disclosed the corruption investigation last October. Using records obtained under the state public records law
and later subpoenaed by the FBI, the paper also reported on questionable city loans to downtown bars and businesses, including some
owned by Albano's political allies and others with organized crime associations.
Those loans are now being examined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's inspector general's unit, which looks
for fraud and criminal violations in loan programs.
The city corruption investigation has been overshadowed by a related organized crime probe that has resulted in the indictments of 16
people, including three alleged members of the region's Mafia hierarchy.
Indeed, in the absence of arrests, indictments or even confirmation from the U.S. Attorney's Office, the scope and timing of the FBI's
investigation remained unclear until two weeks ago.
At City Hall, the news of the subpoenas spread quickly; according to one source, two FBI agents "camped out" in a Law Department
office, working out the logistics of the massive copying operation. Fenton denied that the agents spent much time in the office.
From interviews with employees Friday, the picture of a tense and wary City Hall emerged, with employees wanting to know what was
going on, but not wanting to know too much.
One city official, who like most others spoke on condition of anonymity, said the probe has unleashed a geyser of gossip. "There's already
a big gossip network here, and they just love this. They've come up with some wild stories."
Another official said the subpoenas may have the opposite effect. "People are very concerned about what's going on and who's going to
be next. But they don't want to know too much, either. They're keeping their heads down."
So far, the probe has produced only one sure winner: The Maverick Group Inc., a downtown company specializing in sensitive copying
projects. With the FBI's approval, the Law Department hired Maverick for the next month.
The price tag: As high as $10,000, with the city - not the FBI - most likely picking up the tab.
Index terms: GOVERNMENT-FEDERAL; GOVERNMENT-LOCAL; INVESTIGATION
Dateline: SPRINGFIELD
Record: MERLIN_1545550
Copyright: Copyright, 2001, The Republican Company, Springfield, MA. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with Permission.