CHAPTER SEVEN: POWER STREET
ATTORNEY: Would you state your name for the record and spell your last name.
BUDDY CIANCI: Yes. Vincent A. Cianci Jr. C-I-A-N-C-I.
ATTORNEY: Would you raise your right hand.
BAILIFF: Do you solemnly swear the testimony you shall give before this Grand Jury on any crime or misdemeanor that you may be inquired about shall be the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?
BUDDY: I do.
First of all, my lawyers have advised me not to answer any questions. But I think you can be fair with me, so I’ve decided to tell you some things that are embarrassing to me, and to my family. In the hope that you will understand what happened on that Sunday.
This proceeding is a secret one. And but for that secrecy I would not be telling you this. I have a family I want to put back together, regardless of what happened.
MARC SMERLING: There were a lot of things that could have brought Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci down. His failed bid for governor; the city’s financial crisis; and those dark deals with the mob.
But what did finally get him, was an incident that happened one Sunday night, March 20, 1983, at Buddy’s house on Power Street.
ZAC STUART-PONTIER: Today’s episode: The fall of Buddy Cianci. Well, the first fall.
I’m Zac Stuart-Pontier.
MARC: And I’m Marc Smerling.
Welcome to Crimetown.
DENNIS AIKEN: Nobody had to discover Buddy as being corrupt, everybody knew Buddy was corrupt.
MARC: This is Dennis Aiken, the FBI agent from the end of episode five. The one hunting Buddy Cianci.
AIKEN: People in the city would know he was corrupt but “he was a good guy,” you know what I mean. Cause that’s the stories I’d hear: “he fixed my potholes, he gave my brother-in-law a job, he helped so-and-so get on the police department.” Those little things. The same way Raymond Patriarca used to do it.
MARC: Aiken and other FBI agents were poking around City Hall trying to find out just how many wiseguys were on the payroll, and how far Buddy’s deal-making had really gone. Buddy was feeling the pressure, and it was starting to show.
AIKEN: We heard rumors of violence, cocaine use, drug problems. That he was just really getting out of control, so it was a matter of time, we believed, before he was going to self-destruct. That we may not ever have to deal with him. That he would take care of himself, you might say.
MARC: And that…is exactly what happened.
BUDDY: I’m here to answer all questions, but before I do that I would like to make a short presentation about an aspect of this case I don’t believe you are familiar with...
MARC: The tape you’re hearing now, and what you heard from Buddy at the top of the show, is Grand Jury testimony that has never been made public. Twenty-three Grand Jurors, and a couple state prosecutors, are gathered in a courtroom, trying to get to the bottom of what happened that Sunday night in March. Buddy told them it all revolved around his ex-wife.
BUDDY: To begin with, I was married about ten years ago. Like other families, we’ve had our ups and we’ve had our downs, but for the most part we shared some very rewarding experiences together. And we loved one another.
MARC: In 1973, Buddy married a woman named Sheila. This is Sheila in a campaign commercial from Buddy’s first run for mayor.
SHEILA COMMERCIAL: We’d like you to meet somebody we’re very proud of. A man who’s had power and used it with integrity. Like when he was prosecutor of the state’s anti corruption strike-force...
MARC: We’ve had many conversations with Sheila, but she declined to be interviewed on tape. Here in this television commercial, she sits beside Buddy. She’s blonde and beautiful. And she’s holding their newborn, Nicole.
SHEILA COMMERCIAL: ...he has the ability and talent to lead our city. When he’s mayor you’ll be as proud of him as I am. My favorite candidate, Buddy.
BUDDY: Several years ago, I began to detect problems in my marriage. I initially thought it was the long hours I worked and the commitments to the city that kept me from living a normal life. Then two and a half years ago, my wife asked me for a divorce. I was devastated. The divorce itself traumatized me. I sat alone at the dinner table. I had sleepless nights. But most of all, I had no one to share my life with. And yes, I was at an all-time low. [crying]
ATTORNEY: Mayor, if at any point you’d like to take a break, get a glass of water...
BUDDY: I’m okay.
MARC: Buddy's not the only one who testified before the grand jury. There were several others. Including this man.
JOE DISANTO: I’m going to wind up using some profanity, I apologize, I don’t know if I should use it, or…
ATTORNEY: No problem, no problem.
DISANTO: You know, there’s a lot of ladies here.
ATTORNEY: We’ve heard it all.
DISANTO: Oh, ok.
MARC: This is Joe DiSanto. He was the director of public works and Buddy’s close friend. DiSanto says that for him, the events of that Sunday night in March all began with a phone call from Buddy.
DISANTO: The mayor called. Starts crying. Says “I’m all alone, I just went through a divorce, nobody wants to talk to me.” Beh beh beh. Cryin. “Can you come over, you’re my friend.” Well I did go over.
MARC: DiSanto headed to 33 Power Street, Buddy’s house on the east side of Providence. An imposing fortress of a building, looming behind tall iron gates. Disanto arrived at 5 pm.
DISANTO: I get over there, and he was very disturbed. And he said, “I just found out from Ray DeLeo’s niece that he’s been fucking my wife.”
MARC: Raymond DeLeo was a wealthy contractor, who Buddy had known for years. And according to the rumor Buddy had just heard, DeLeo had been having an affair with Sheila, while she was still married to Buddy.
Buddy was furious. Chain-smoking and ranting. And at this point, he made a fateful phone call that changed everything. He called Raymond Deleo.
BUDDY: I said, “Hello, Raymond.” He said, “Hello.” I said, “This is Buddy Cianci, how are you.” He said, “Fine.” I said, “Raymond, you’ve been having an affair with my wife. for four years, three or four years.” I said to him, “I want to talk to you about it. I want to see you.” I said, “I want you to come up here.”
DISANTO: He told Ray DeLeo, “You’ve been screwing my wife, you’ve been fucking my wife, you’re lower than whale shit. And oh, you name it.” And he said, “If you’re not here by quarter past seven...I’m comin' down there.”
So anyway, he gets off the phone, and he’s ranting and raving, and ranting and raving, I mean every word, if you want to hear every word: “He fucked my wife, fuckin' asshole...” I mean, the whole evening was nothing but fucks. [laughter]
MARC: Next, Buddy called another member of his inner circle: his divorce attorney, a prominent former judge named Bill McGair. McGair told the grand jury that he arrived at Power Street around 6:30 and found Buddy in bad shape.
BILL MCGAIR: The mayor, he was in such a state of frenzy, cryin'. He looked exhausted. His eyes were sunk in. I don’t know this as a fact but I imagine he never slept all night the night before.
MARC: At seven, Patrolman James Hassett, a Providence cop and Buddy’s driver, arrived at Power Street.
The four of them—the head of public works, the former judge, the cop, and the mayor—waited for Raymond DeLeo. Buddy had told DeLeo to be there at 7:15. Again, Joe DiSanto:
DISANTO: I’m waiting for this door to ring, waiting for this door to ring. Anyway he’s ranting and raving and ranting and raving, it’s quarter past seven, the guy ain’t comin'. He’s not asking for the time, so it gets to be like quarter to eight, ten of eight.
We had convinced Buddy that we were gonna go to dinner. Well Buddy got to the point of getting his coat, or what have you. At that exact moment, the door rings drrrrrring. I said, oh shit. I says, oh no I hope it’s not him.
Cop answered the door. And down the corridor walked Ray DeLeo.
ATTORNEY: Would you state your name and spell your last name.
RAYMOND DELEO: Raymond DeLeo. D-E-L-E-O.
ATTORNEY: It’s my understanding, Mr. DeLeo, that when you rang the doorbell at 33 Power Street, the door was opened by Patrolman Hassett, it that correct?
DELEO: Yes. Yes he turned me around, up against the door, got my hands upright up against the wall, and frisked me three or four times. The mayor told him to take me down to the living room. Well at that point I said, “What’s this. Let me out of here.”
MARC: Buddy’s living room was large. There were statues decorating the place and art on the walls. Patrolman Hassett—in uniform, and armed—led DeLeo to a wingback chair in front of the fireplace. And according to DeLeo, Hassett stood by the door, blocking his exit.
By now, it was 8:30. And Buddy began to speak.
BUDDY: And I started a long soliloquy. Telling him that, he really thought he was a big man because he was—can I say what I really said?—said, “You were fuckin' my wife and you thought you were a big man, didn’t you?”
MARC: Joe DiSanto.
DISANTO: “You’re fuckin' my wife you fuckin' asshole! What are you, proud of it?!” Hollerin’ like you can’t believe. You know. I mean, as loud as I’ve ever heard him holler.
MARC: Judge McGair.
MCGAIR: The rampage went on again. “You took her to Disneyland, you took her on your boat, you bought her a fur coat, a camera, a watch, you let her use your credit card. When I’m workin', runnin' the city government night and day, you’re out fuckin’ my wife.” And this went on, it was like a litany, a litany.
MARC: Mayor Cianci.
BUDDY: “I want to know why it happened. I want to know why you didn’t come to me if my wife was having problems. You’re like a brother to me.” And he said to me, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” And he kept insisting that. He said, “You’re sick. You don’t understand.” He said, “I didn’t do anything but treat you with honor and respect.”
And my blood started to go up higher.
I struck him. There were many strikes.
MARC: Ray DeLeo.
DELEO: He followed through with some good heavy punches. I never know what he was gonna do, lecture, or spit. He demonstrated some of the inhuman things that he was capable of. Surprised and stunned me. And immediately he says, “Go ahead, hit me back, you’ll get a bullet through your head.”
MARC: Then, Buddy walked over to the fireplace.
BUDDY: There was a log. And I picked the log up. And Joe DiSanto yelled my name.
DISANTO: I reached for him, grabbed him. I says, “You put the goddamn thing down.” Which he did. He said, “I’m not gonna hit him anyway. Mind your business.”
BUDDY: And I looked at Joe and I said, “Don’t worry, somebody else would use this, but I’m not.”
MARC: It was now 9:30. And Judge McGair had had enough.
MCGAIR: Uh, I’m 66 years of age, I was visibly upset, shaken. My head was pounding, I’m nervous. I have high blood pressure, I’m under the doctor’s care.
DISANTO: The judge at that time, he was shakin’ like a leaf. Blood pressure’s like 220 over 112, he’s on pills. And I’m afraid the guy was going to have a stroke.
MCGAIR: I didn’t want to be there, but I was. And I said, “Mayor please, let’s try to straighten this out as gentlemen.” He said something like, “Well he’s not fuckin’ your wife.” So I get up and I motion to Joe DiSanto to go into the kitchen.
DISANTO: Judge motioned, we went into the kitchen. One thing I remember, I opened the refrigerator, and there was a box of Oreo cookies.
MCGAIR: There was no food in the house but a little tin box there, there were some Oreo cookies in there, they were stale, and I ate some of those.
DISANTO: He ate three rows of Oreo cookies, I mean like you can’t believe.
MCGAIR: I went in the bathroom and there was towels in there, I had put towels all over me. At times I would—whatever I could hear I would block my ears like this. This thing was getting out of hand, it was a crazy situation.
MARC: So, Joe DiSanto decided they needed some help.
DISANTO: I said, “Judge, we better get a hold of Herb, I mean this is ridiculous.”
MARC: Herb is Herb DeSimone, a former attorney general. He was Buddy’s mentor from his days as a prosecutor. DiSanto and McGair hoped he might act as a peacemaker. So they made the call.
DISANTO: Says, “Herb, will you please come over here? These guy are having a battle. They’re blastin’ each other, they’re fighting. It’s all over Sheila. Come over, they’re both your friends, they’re friends.” He said he was on his way.
MARC: Herb DeSimone arrived at 10:30.
DISANTO: Herb DeSimone walks in. He said, “What’s goin on?”
MCGAIR: When Herbert come in, his presence, instead of being a peacemaker, unfortunately, stirred up the mayor again.
DISANTO: “What do you mean, what’s goin on, Herb? You introduced me to this rotten sonofabitch. He’s your friend. You knew he was fucking my wife. I got the evidence. You’re no good, Herb.” This and that.
“Well Buddy please stop just stop…” Everybody’s cryin' in here, Buddy’s cryin', Herb’s cryin', I mean what the hell are the judge and I gonna do? Now they start hugging -- him and Herb -- “Buddy please don’t do this.” Buddy’s like, “He fucked my wife.” Oh maronna mia! This is like Dynasty! This is like Dynasty when you add the players up. You people think, just think: a mayor, attorney general, department director of public works, a judge, I mean this is like Dynasty, I mean you read this in books.
Anyway...all of a sudden, there’s a cigarette.
MARC: After the break – a cigarette.
MARC: Welcome back to 33 Power Street, where Buddy Cianci invited a former judge and the director of public works to attend the beating of Raymond DeLeo. They, in turn, invited a former attorney general. An armed police officer stood by the door.
We pick things up around 10:30 pm, when Buddy lit a cigarette.
BUDDY: I was smoking a cigarette. And he infuriated me.
ATTORNEY: What happened?
BUDDY: I believe he got a burn on his face.
ATTORNEY: How many times did the mayor try to burn you with a cigarette?
DELEO: Two occasions.
ATTORNEY: And one time he did succeed in hitting your eye?
DELEO: Yeah. As he told me, he was gonna blind me, he was gonna poke a cigarette in my eye.
BUDDY: I smoke with my right hand and I went like that. But I didn’t stick it at him or do anything else with it but one time, uh, come at him. And if I sit here and told you that I was not mad, that I was not aggressive, then I would be lying to you. I was. He was burned with a cigarette. And that’s what happened.
MARC: The mayor of Providence, torturing a man with a lit cigarette. Holding him against his will. Joe DiSanto.
DISANTO: Buddy calls the cop for a drink. He’s like a valet, go get me a drink, go get my shoes. Gives Buddy a drink. Buddy threw the drink at Raymond.
MARC: As the liquor dripped down DeLeo’s face, You can imagine the other four men looking on trying to figure a way out. Buddy may have felt that way too…because he summoned the two lawyers, DeSimone and McGair, to the kitchen to talk options.
DeLeo was left in the living room with the cop standing guard. And, after chatting with the lawyers for a while, Buddy offered DeLeo a proposition:
DELEO: And he says, “You’re going to sign a confession here before you leave tonight. And you’re going to agree to pay me $500,000.” If I didn’t do the things he wanted, that I could very well be found down by the river with a bullet in my head. “I want a check, a $500,000 check, I want a certified check by Friday or you’re dead. D-E-D.”
ATTORNEY: Did you tell him that if he didn’t get $500,000 by a certain date he was gonna be dead, D-E-D?
BUDDY: I might have said that, but I had no intention of killing anybody, or no intention of—people say that all the time. Who are in emotional states. In the state I was in, I could have said almost anything. I told him that I thought by Friday. I said by Friday I want $500,000.
MARC: Clearly this wasn’t just about hurt feelings. Buddy wanted DeLeo to pay him $500,000—that’s the amount that Buddy said he paid Sheila in the divorce settlement.
And at this point, DeLeo would agree to almost anything. So he said he would get the $500,000 by Friday. Joe DiSanto.
DISANTO: Finally, looked like they were ready to go, I walk over. Raymond looked shattered, humiliated, he had a mark, his face was red, what have you. I said, “Raymond, can I give you a ride home.”
MARC: The night was finally over.
Over the years, there’s been a lot of speculation about Buddy’s behavior that Sunday night on Power Street.
Buddy portrayed himself as a jilted husband, emotional and out of control, blind-sided by this rumor of his wife’s affair with his best friend.
In fact, Sheila and Buddy had been separated for almost two years. Their divorce was delayed only for appearances, so Sheila would be by Buddy’s side during his 1980 run for governor and then again for mayor in 1982. And Buddy...was notoriously unfaithful.
ATTORNEY: Were you ever involved in any women over the course of your marriage, Mayor?
BUDDY: I’m not going to lie to you, of course I was.
ATTORNEY: How many, Mayor?
BUDDY: I never had any long affairs. I don’t blame Sheila that much for doing what she did.
ATTORNEY: But that’s really the point of why we’re here…
BUDDY: Because it was a friend, Susan, it was a close, personal friend, it’s a person who I thought was my brother. And why didn’t she come to me and tell me she was having this long affair…
ATTORNEY: Did you tell your wife you were having affairs?
ATTORNEY: Well, why should she tell you?
BUDDY: I wasn’t having affairs.
ATTORNEY: You just said you were.
BUDDY: No, not an affair. Not a long, drawn-out encounter with her best friend.
MARC: DeLeo never paid Buddy the $500,000. And he maintained to the grand jury that he and Sheila never had an affair. That they were only friends. And that she needed a friend, because Buddy could be violent, even with her.
DELEO: Everything I’ve gone to understand and some of the things that Mrs. Cianci has said and how she was abused by him. To the point of attempting to strangle her at one point. He needs to be looked at. And I’m sayin' that seriously and I think from a psychiatric point of view. The guy is just becoming a nut. The guy is just off his rocker, he’s doing a lot of crazy things. He’s not the same guy I first knew something like 15 years ago.
ARCHIVAL NEWS: Good evening, a statewide Grand Jury has indicted Providence mayor Vincent Cianci on charges including extortion, kidnapping and assault. The allegations against the mayor come from this man, Bristol contractor Raymond DeLeo. The attack left DeLeo with internal bleeding in his right eye, headaches, a black eye, contusions to his skull and face, contusions on his right leg, a concussion and possible broken nose.
ARCHIVAL NEWS: Mayor Cianci really stunned a packed courtroom in Providence when he changed his plea of innocent to the six-count indictment that he faced, and pleaded nolo contendere. Basically saying he was guilty to two of those counts.
ARCHIVAL BUDDY: Your honor, if there was a day in my life that I could live over again, it would be March 20, 1983. On that day, I behaved in a way uncharacteristic to my nature. I’m sorry for that behavior. I always have been sorry for that behavior. Because I inflicted harm on a man that was my friend for 15 years.
MARC: Mayor Buddy Cianci received a five year suspended sentence for his assault on Raymond DeLeo. He avoided prison, but now…he was a convicted felon.
Providence is essentially two hills, on either side of a river. On one side is Federal Hill, mob boss Raymond Patriarca’s domain. The other bank is the east side, where Power Street is, and where the doctors, lawyers and professionals live.
Caught between these two hills was Buddy. Ten years earlier, as a newly elected Mayor, he had promised that he would clean up the city. But now…he was being forced from office as a violent criminal.
Buddy did change Providence... but Providence also changed Buddy.
BUDDY: Good evening. Earlier today, I submitted a letter to the city clerk. It reads: I respectfully submit my resignation as mayor of the city of Providence to become effective at 7:59pm on April 25, 1984. One of the most painful things I have ever done, was to sign that letter. I wish godspeed to the next mayor, as he takes on the heavy burdens of this office. As I lay down my burden, I say to everyone: farewell, thank you, and goodnight.
MARC: Leaving the press conference in the Mayor’s office, Buddy waved goodbye to a small crowd of supporters. Oddly enough…he didn’t seem that upset.
ARCHIVAL: The mayor as usual today was smiling, fortified perhaps by the knowledge that the city ordinance which says that mayors who are convicted felons must be thrown out of city hall. It doesn’t say they can’t run again.
ZAC: Next time on Crimetown: gold heists, wiretaps, and an epic game of cat and mouse that marks the beginning of the end for the mob.