Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin announced that Raymond Hugh (age 50), of Cranston, RI, pleaded nolo contendere today to one count of bribery of a public official before Superior Court Justice Susan E. McGuirl. Under the terms of the plea, Hugh was sentenced to three years with one year to serve and the remainder suspended with probation.
Had the case proceeded to trial, the State was prepared to prove that Hugh, co-owner of the now-closed Shark Sushi Bar & Grill, Inc. ("Shark Bar") in Providence, bribed Gordon Fox, in his capacity as Vice Chairman of the Providence Board of Licenses, to advocate for and vote in favor of approving the liquor license for the Shark Bar.
The State would have proved that prior to August 2008, Hugh and his business partner met with Fox, who had performed legal work for Hugh in the past, prior to the matter of the liquor license being heard by the Board of Licenses. It was at this meeting in Fox's office in which Fox agreed he would help ensure Shark Bar received its liquor license.
At the Board of Licenses hearing on August 13, 2008, several business owners and residents expressed opposition to the Shark Bar license application. At the August 29, 2008 Board of Licenses hearing, Fox articulated the reasons in favor of granting the license, and moved to approve the application. The motion passed and the Shark Bar was awarded a Class B liquor license.
On September 5, 2008, Hugh and his business partner again met with Fox at his law office, at which time Hugh gave Fox an envelope which contained cash provided by Hugh, two checks totaling $17,500 provided by his business partner, and two additional two checks totaling $17,500 provided earlier by a silent partner in the Shark Bar.
The bribery scheme was uncovered as part of an 18-month federal grand jury investigation led by prosecutors from the United States Attorney's Office and the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office, and investigators from the FBI, IRS and Rhode Island State Police, into illegal activities by Gordon Fox, in his role as a State Representative and Speaker of the House, which included the execution of court authorized search warrants at the former speaker's home and State House office in March of 2014; the issuance of more than 200 subpoenas; the examination of more than 36,000 bank, government, personal, and campaign records belonging to Fox; and forensic examinations of numerous computers and other electronic devices.
Fox pleaded guilty on March 3, 2015, to wire fraud, bribery and filing a false tax return.
At the time of his guilty plea, Fox admitted to the Court that from February 2008 until March of 2014, just prior to the execution of federal search warrants at his State House office and home, he repeatedly used money received from campaign donors to pay for personal expenses. After transferring the money from his campaign accounts to his personal accounts, former Speaker Fox used the money - $108,000 in all - to pay the mortgage on his home, the loan payments on his car, and the balance on his personal American Express card, which he used to make purchases at various retail outlets. Fox admitted that in order to conceal his fraudulent conduct, he falsified his mandatory Rhode Island Board of Elections filings.
Additionally, Fox admitted to the Court that in 2008, while serving as an appointed member and Vice-Chairman of the City of Providence Board of Licenses, he accepted a $52,000 bribe from the owners of Shark Sushi Bar and Grill to help secure a liquor license for the establishment. At the time, there was considerable neighborhood opposition to the application. At a hearing in August 2008, Vice-Chairman Fox, pursuant to his agreement with the Shark Bar partners, spoke in detail regarding why the license should be awarded, and moved the Board to approve the Shark Bar's application. The Board voted to approve the Shark Bar's application.
Additionally, Fox admitted to the Court that for the tax years 2008 through 2012, he filed false tax returns, in that he knowingly omitted personal income he received as a result of his receipt of the bribe in 2008 and his fraudulent transfers from his campaign accounts to his personal accounts.
In June 2015, Fox was sentenced today to three years in federal prison for stealing $108,000 donated by campaign supporters to pay for personal expenses; his acceptance of the $52,000 bribe to advocate and move for issuance of a liquor license for the Shark Bar; and his failure to account for these illegal sources of income on his tax returns. In addition, Fox was ordered to serve two years supervised release upon completion of his prison term, and to pay $109,000 in restitution.
After Fox was sentenced, the Rhode Island State Police and Office of Attorney General initiated a grand jury investigation into Raymond Hugh and the bribery scheme. On October 30, 2015, the grand jury returned a secret indictment charging Hugh with one count of bribery of a public official.
"Gordon Fox was not the only guilty party in this transaction. Raymond Hugh knowingly and willingly bribed Gordon Fox to ensure his business was awarded a liquor license," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "There are scores of business owners who go before city and state licensing boards every day for approval to open and operate businesses. They are seeking nothing more than an honest and fair review and assessment. They should not be penalized because someone else uses influence, power and money to corrupt the system. I hope this prosecution sends a strong message that if you engage in bribery or other illegal methods to secure an unfair advantage, you are just as culpable as the person who accepts the bribe."
The case was jointly prosecuted Rhode Island Assistant Attorney General J. Patrick Youngs and by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dulce Donovan.