A mob lawyer rises to become Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. He promises to leave his past associations behind. But it’s hard to part with old friends.
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JEFFREY TIETZ: Based on the special circumstances surrounding this witness, I would instruct all of the cameramen in the room that they are not to take any photograph for security reasons. And the committee will be in recess momentarily so that screens can be put into place to shield the witness.
ZAC STUART-PONTIER: This is a recording of a special proceeding before the Rhode Island house judiciary committee. We will get to the exact nature of the proceedings later.
BENJAMIN CIVILETTI: Hello, Mr. DiOrio.
MOON DIORIO: Hey.
CIVILETTI: Did you used to be a resident of Providence in Rhode Island.
MOON: Yes, I was running the number office for the organization in Rhode Island.
ZAC: When Richard “Moon” DiOrio, says the “organization,” he means the Patriarca crime Family. Moon is a protected witness, testifying from behind a screen to hide his face. And he’s talking about a time back when he was a bartender at the mob-run Acorn Social Club.
CIVILETTI: Did there come a time when there was a raid or anything at the club after you were there —
MOON: The club was raided three weeks after I became the bartender by the Providence Intelligence Division. I was arrested for selling liquor without a license and maintaining a liquor nuisance.
ZAC: Whenever the club had trouble with the cops, a lawyer would show up. His name was Joseph Bevilacqua.
MOON: Joseph Bevilacqua Sr. came into the club to represent me, while the raid was in progress. He said, “Don’t say nothin’. We’ll take care of everything.”
ZAC: Then, one day, Bevilacqua came to the club with some news. He told Patriarca Underboss Nicky Bianco that he had gotten a new job… Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.
MOON: Mr. Bianco made a statement that he was against him becoming a judge. He said, “Joe, you help keep guys out of jail, now you’re gonna be putting them in jail.
And Mr. Bevilacqua, Joseph Bevilacqua Sr., said, “Don’t worry, I’ll still keep my connections. I’m gonna be a judge. I’ll still keep my connections.”
MARC SMERLING: Joseph Bevilacqua was a pillar of the Italian-American community in Providence who rose from criminal defense attorney for the Patriarca Crime Family to Chief Justice of the state supreme court.
ZAC: Today’s episode… what happens when the guy who represents justice in the state of Rhode Island… won’t give up his mob-connected friends?
MARC: I’m Marc Smerling.
ZAC: And I’m Zac Stuart-Pontier.
MARC: Welcome to Crimetown.
JOHN BEVILACQUA: My father was Italo-American. Very Italo-American. He wasn’t ashamed of his heritage.
ZAC: This is John Bevilacqua, Joe’s son. He was the Senate majority leader in the state of Rhode Island. And he says, to understand his father’s story, you have to understand the Italian-American neighborhood where they grew up, Silver Lake.
JOHN: When I was a little kid I thought going to the old country was going around the block in the back.
Everybody watched for each other. We got to know all the goomata, goombatas and all the cousins and everyone else. Silver Lake to me, was the world. That was it.
I spent a lot of time with my father on weekends. We would go down to his law office. Seeing people, talking to people.
ZAC: John’s father, Joe, was the guy in Silver Lake who people looked up to. And they’d come to him with their legal issues.
JOHN: He represented a lot of people and they never paid him. // He was a kind of person that, if you had a problem and found out about it, he would come out and help you, because we understood what their problems were and tried to help them.
My father never said no to any of them. Never. That’s the type of man he was.
ZAC: So it seemed only natural that Joe would run for office.
JOHN: I used to ride in the old beat-up sound car that my father would drive and he would drive through the neighborhood, his district.
MARC: Like a convertible with speakers?
JOHN: Oh no it wasn’t a convertible it was an old beat up Nash or Ford. It barely ran.
ZAC: What would you say on the loudspeaker?
JOHN: Vote for Joseph A. Bevilacqua for Representative.
ZAC: Bevilacqua became the speaker of the state house of representatives… But he also kept his day job as a criminal defense attorney.
JOHN: My father told me always, always earn your money on your own. Be able to support your family and never ever rely on politics to keep bread on your table.
ZAC: ‘To whom it may concern, I have known Mr. Patriarca for a good many years. I have found him to be a good person of integrity and, in my opinion, good moral character.”
This is an excerpt of a letter Joe Bevilacqua wrote while he was Speaker of the house… to get his old friend, Raymond Patriarca out of jail early. If that seems strange, remember, this is Providence, where relationships go as deep as tree roots. Again, John Bevilacqua.
JOHN: You can’t always pick your friends. You grow up with people such as Silver Lake. And you make friendships, and sometimes the people aren’t the best. But to you they are. Because they’re your friends.
DAN BARRY: Families banded together doing the best they could, and they come to one another’s aid.
ZAC: This is Dan Barry, a former reporter at the Providence Journal. And he says that, for Italian-Americans in Providence, family and friends were everything.
BARRY: You have a son. He becomes a lawyer. Your friend has a son. He becomes a gangster for lack of a better term. Two guys grew up with each other. Their families go way back. They’ve gone through tragedy together, and they’ve gone through celebration together.
Bevilacqua is not going to suddenly say to a wise guy, hey I can’t handle your case. That’s just not going to happen.
ZAC: But then…Bevilacqua got a promotion. From Speaker of the House to Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. And he finally made a choice. He said he was going to separate himself from his mob clients and his mobbed up old friends:
ARCHIVAL BEVILACQUA SR.: “The chief justice wrote, I stated publicly at the time of my election that I would travel a different road than the one I did as a public elected representative. I also, he wrote, acknowledge that interests and causes in which I had previously been an advocate would need to be put aside.”
JIM MULLEN: In 1982, I was in the intelligence unit and I was passing through Federal Hill.
ZAC: Jim Mullen was an investigator with the Rhode Island state police.
MULLEN: I’m by myself. It’s about 8, 8:30 at night. // There was a lot of mob guys that would hang in this particular area, and I mean, you have Bobo Marapese’s club right around the corner, you had Small World Bakery, all sorts of things. It was like a meeting area where they would all congregate.
And I spotted the Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court standing on the corner talking to, you know, corner guys up on Federal Hill. I mean, he wasn’t doing anything wrong, but it just struck me as, something’s not right here.
ZAC: Not long after that night, Mullen was assigned to surveil a clothing store called Monticello’s.
MULLEN: A place where high-ranking organized crime guys of the Patriarca crime family would congregate. Mob bosses, Raymond Junior Patriarca, Nicky Bianco, all the made guys were coming here. You know, in and out, in and out.
And one day we saw the Chief Justice Bevilacqua at Monticello’s Clothing Store.
So we followed him when he left and the Chief Justice was with a woman and he went up to the Alpine Motel…They went in and we took off.
REPRESENTATIVE: Could you state your full name for the record please.
PEGGY DIONNE: Peggy Ann Dione. I was the manager of the Alpine Motel.
ZAC: The Alpine was owned by mob associates, and in Peggy Dione’s testimony to the judiciary committee, she describes how things worked for special guests at the motel.
PEGGY: I would get a phone call, and I would be asked what room was available and I would tell him the number of the room. And they’d say, “Open the door such and such a time, I have friends or relatives coming in. Just open the door and leave it open.”
The rooms were never used more than an hour to two hours, that’s it.
MULLEN: So the next morning I go to the office and I tell my bosses what happened.
ZAC: What was the Chief Justice doing with a woman in a motel room for an hour or two in the afternoon? Jim Mullen’s bosses had some suspicions.
MULLEN: So they sat me down, they go, “We want you to start following the Chief.” I go, “Alright.”
ZAC: The cops begin to surveil the most powerful judge in the state…that’s after the break.
ZAC: Welcome back. Before the break, Chief Justice Joe Bevilacqua was spotted hanging out with wiseguys… and the cops followed him to a mob-owned motel. We pick back up with State Police Investigator Jim Mullen…
MULLEN: We put a surveillance team together. We started following the Chief Justice around. We would start on a surveillance from his house, he’d go to the Supreme Court, he’d go to the courthouse, he’d go, he’d just move around.
ZAC: And it wasn’t long before they ended up back at the Alpine Motel.
MULLEN: We had a van and we sat in the corner of the lot at the Alpine.
And all of a sudden, who pops up the road, it’s the Chief Justice Bevilacqua. So he gets out of the car and he goes in the room. We snap surveillance photographs of him. I don’t know, about 10, 15 minutes later, this woman shows up. She gets out of her car, the chief comes out, greets her, and they go in the room.
BARRY: Bevilacqua enjoyed the company of women who were not his wife.
ZAC: Former Providence Journal reporter Dan Barry.
BARRY: And so, the state police wait a while. They are patient men. And then here comes the chief justice of the state of rhode island walking out of the motel and while the state police are taking the photograph, he is pulling up his zipper.
MULLEN: We weren’t zooming in for the perfect shot. Just shot a burst off and we got what we did. There was one that appeared that he had his zipper on his hand.
BARRY: And the State Police have this photograph which is at the very least, mortifying.
MULLEN: Next day, I get up to State Police headquarters. And I go in and they said that, the Colonel wants to see you. Colonel Stone. And that was, that was very unusual.
ZAC: Colonel Walter E. Stone was the head of the Rhode Island state police. Tall, lanky, military bearing, he’s been called J. Edgar Hoover of Rhode Island and he had been fighting organized crime for decades. To guys like Jim Mullen, he was a legend.
MULLEN: So I go in, I salute him, I sit down on the couch, he had a couch in there. He had a little bit of a high-pitched voice. //And so he goes, “Trooper, what happened last night?” Now he already knows the answer, I gotta tell him again what happened, right. So he goes, “Ok,” he goes, “make sure you don’t tell anybody about this.” I go, “Yes sir.”
ZAC: Colonel Stone knew that Bevilacqua was hanging around with wiseguys. That wasn’t really illegal. But now, Mullen had brought him something he could use…
MARC: Do you want to talk about how that photo got over to the Providence Journal?
BARRY: So one day a state police detective walks into the newsroom of the Providence Journal.
ZAC: Again, reporter, Dan Barry.
DAN: He looks like a trooper, ram-rod straight, very handsome, no-nonsense. Hands over a manila envelope, and walks out. Guess what’s in that manila envelope.
And so then, one morning, Rhode Island awakened to the front page of the Providence Journal to see a photograph of their Chief Justice walking out of a motel pulling up his zipper.
JOHN: From the moment he took the position, they went after him. The paper saying writing articles about him. Anything that has a negative impact on a person’s reputation they would print.
ZAC: To Joe’s son John, it was clear that the Providence Journal and the state police had it out for his father.
JOHN: Now just think of this. You have an investigative arm of the state of Rhode Island following the Chief Justice and wherever he goes. They had a special van that followed him with certain cameras and everything else taking pictures. They watched him constantly. He couldn’t go anywhere without them following him. To me that was nonsense. That was an injustice.
ARCHIVAL NEWS: Bevilacqua has been the subject of a newspaper report claiming he shared a Smithfield motel room with women at least three times in 1983.
JIM TARICANI: For the first time in our state constitution’s 142-year-old history the general assembly is considering impeaching someone. That someone is the Chief Justice of the state supreme court, joseph bevilacqua.
ZAC: Bevilacqua’s rendez-vous at the Alpine put his personal life on trial. And on May 14, 1986, the judiciary committee of the state House of Representatives began impeachment hearings.
TIETZ: We are about to undertake a truly historic responsibility. A resolution has been presented in General Assembly, which makes serious allegations of misconduct against the Chief Justice of our highest court, and calls for his impeachment.
ZAC: The testimony you’ve heard in this episode from Moon Diorio and the manager at the Alpine? It’s all from these impeachment proceedings. And everything that the state police observed while following the Chief Justice was revealed live on television.
TIETZ: Has there ever been a time when the Chief Justice was the subject of a surveillance by the state police?
URSO: Yes sir. The Chief Justice was showing up at places and locations where known criminals were hanging out.
REP: When do you recall any of your observations were first published by the Providence Journal.
ROB KRAMER: December 2, 1984, I believe. It was an interesting story.
CIVILETTI: …And I ask you if you can identify that photograph.
URSO: It’s Chief Justice Bevilacqua coming out of his vehicle at the Alpine Motel.
ZAC: The most damaging testimony came from protected witness Moon Diorio, the former bartender at the Acorn Social Club who’d said he heard Bevilacqua talking with Patriarca’s underboss. Moon and Bevilacqua’s defense attorney went head to head.
EGBERT: Are you looking to get even with the Chief Justice for something today?
EGBERT: Do you like the Chief Justice?
MOON: Yeah I have no complaints against him.
EGBERT: He’s a nice fellow, right.
EGBERT: You think he’s a wonderful man.
MOON: Well I wouldn’t say a wonderful — now wait a minute.
EGBERT: Nice guy.
MOON: I don’t know about nice.
TIETZ: Let the witness answer.
MOON: I wouldn’t say a wonderful man.
EGBERT: So you have nothing against him.
MOON: Well at the time, no, I had nothing against him.
EGBERT: Do you have anything against his son.
MOON: He wants to smell like a skunk, that’s his business.
EGBERT: Well what do you think you smell like.
MOON: I don’t know. But I know what he smells like. I’m not wearing a robe, sir.
EGBERT: Thank God.
MOON: I admit to being a criminal. I am not wearing a robe. He is.
EGBERT: No you’re wearing a mask.
MOON: Yeah. But I am a criminal, I admit it. He’s wearing a robe.
EGBERT: Are you still a criminal?
MOON: He stunk up a lot of courtrooms.
ZAC: Again Joe’s son John Bevilacqua.
JOHN BEV: When they started to come in with the spectacular, sensationalized individuals like Moon DiOrio, to testify with a bag over his head and the screens. That was an insult to the people of the state of Rhode Island and also an insult to every decent person in the world.
Yes, I’m his son, I’m prejudiced, I’m biased, that was my father. But remember, they never convicted him of anything. They smeared him. They smeared my family. It wasn’t an issue of right or wrong, it was an issue of enough is enough.
TARICANI ARCHIVAL: Bevilacqua ended a ten year career on the bench this afternoon when he signed this letter of resignation. He said the current impeachment have caused his health to deteriorate and have not only taxed myself, my health, my family, my friends, but have also caused a substantial financial burden on the state of Rhode Island.
ZAC: Bevilacqua resigned before the hearings were over. And his son John says that a lot of Italian-Americans in Providence felt like he had been drummed out of office…simply for staying true to where he came from.
JOHN: A lot of Italo-American people feel as though that Joe Bevilacqua was the guy that made it possible for them to succeed. And to advance. A lot of Italo-Americans, and a lot of people themselves that knew my father, were very, very hurt.
My father was not the type of person that turned his back on anybody. Never do it. And that, if he had a fault at all, that was his fault.
DAN: You know the thing about Chief Justice Bevilacqua, is that it’s not black and white.
ZAC: Dan Barry says that Bevilacqua should have understood the conflict between his private life and his public position.
DAN: Right, so he wasn’t caught in any kind of overt crime, but the perception of it was wrong and there were plenty of Italian-Americans who said enough ok. We have elected you to the state house, we have honored you with this position of Chief Justice. What we expect in return is integrity, and the perception of integrity. That means that you do not write letters of recommendation for the New England mob boss. It means that you do not go to Monticello’s to chat with mob associates. I don’t think that’s a hard call.
ZAC: On June 22, 1989, 34 years after Joe Bevilacqua was first elected to the house, and three years after he was forced from the bench, the Associated Press ran the following obituary: “Joseph A. Bevilacqua, whose friendships with reputed mobsters tarnished and finally ended his career as Rhode Island’s top legislator and top judge, died Wednesday. He was 70.”
MARC: Next time on Crimetown.
Patriarca is dead. And the mob is in turmoil. But there’s another org that takes over where the mob left off. The network.
ARLENE VIOLET: The network in Rhode Island is like organized crime. Except one thing. They make what they do legal.
ZAC: Crimetown is me, Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling,
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 Matthew Boll.
Additional mixing by Enoch Kim.
Our title track is “Run To Your Mama” by Goat.
The credit music is ’Good Times’ by Andy Johnston, courtesy of Jack Fleischer
Impeachment archival courtesy of the Rhode Island State Archives
News archival courtesy of WPRI channel 12 and WPRO channel 10
Original music by John 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. If he wants to smell like a skunk that’s his business.
This season of Crimetown is dedicated to the memory of Bill Malinowski.
Thanks to the Providence Journal, Julia Heymans, Emily Wiedemann, Lisa Newby, Tim White, Jim Taricani, Ken Carlson, Kate Wells, Mary Murphy, and everyone who shared their stories with us.
For a full list of credits, and for bonus content from this episode, visit our website at crimetownshow.com.
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