The Hummel Report: Gordon Fox Admits to Corruption Charges

GordonFoxThe irony was not lost this week on many who have followed politics in Rhode Island over the years: On Tues, March 3, Former House Speaker William Murphy stood next to his former Majority Leader Gordon Fox facing questions from reporters. They were a formidable duo during their tenure at The Rhode Island State House, but now they stood as attorney and defendant, Fox having just admitted inside the federal courthouse behind him to bribery and other corruption charges that will land him in prison.

Fox’s voice cracked as he said, “And I don’t want to feel callous to any of the people of the state of Rhode Island, any donors, including the people close to me, the people that looked up to me, like family. I mean, it’s tough.”

Tough, because he is facing at least three years in federal prison, in addition to the loss of his law license, his political power and his reputation. None of that, apparently, was on Fox’s mind when in 2008 he took a $52,000 bribe from an East Side bar seeking a liquor license. That was in Fox’s capacity as chairman of the Providence Liquor Licensing Board, long before he went on to become Rhode Island’s most powerful politician as Speaker of the House.

Fox’s admission in court to the bribery charges — and an allegation of using more than $100,000 of campaign contributions for personal use — capped nearly a year of speculation after the FBI and other federal authorities raided his State House office in March 2014. What were they really after and who was the target?

The Providence Journal reported this week the feds were led to the bribe and the illegal use of campaign contributions after initially looking at the troubled Providence Economic Development Partnership (PEDP) and a series of questionable loans made over the past decade.

Beginning in fall 2011, The Hummel Report produced a series of stories focusing on the PEDP. The series included a story that showed Fox, as a closing attorney for dozens of loans, did not report the income he earned from the city on his state Ethics Commission form. We also found that federal agents interviewed a woman who received a loan using a phantom address. They asked her about Fox and others at the PEDP.

The dramatic raid a year ago at Fox’s home and State House office gave investigators a paper trail that turned up the 2008 bribe from the East Side bar. Then the feds started looking at Fox’s extensive use of campaign funds for personal expenses, including mortgage and car payments, and American Express card expenses. One check covered a bill from the Warwick Animal Hospital. Fox apparently didn’t try to hide it and Rhode Island campaign finance laws are so weak that officials basically let politicians report on “the honor system” that everything was on the up-and-up.

Of course, we’ve been down this road before: a politician on the courthouse steps on the verge of tears apologizing for letting his friends and family down. You have to wonder whether the remorse stems from committing the crimes or getting caught. In an interview with The Hummel Report in March 2013, Fox said, “I live by the ethical rules; I work by ethical rules.” This from a man who had taken a bribe five years earlier and already admitted to one Ethics Commission violation. He would admit to another violation within months of our story.

So Gordon Fox is the latest addition to Rhode Island’s Wall of Shame.

U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha was vague about whether this closes the chapter on last year’s raid, or whether there is more to come. And it raises the question: If Fox accepted a bribe, as he now admits, someone had to give it, and will that person be charged? And will there be additional people implicated?

Stay tuned.

For a video chronology of The Hummel Report’s coverage of Gordon Fox and the Providence Economic Development Partnership, go this link: hummelreport.org/Stories/3.5.2015.fox.html

One response to “The Hummel Report: Gordon Fox Admits to Corruption Charges”

  1. John Ricci says:

    What happens to the person who paid the bribe. Isn't he or she just as guilty as Fox. Should Sharke still be allowed to be in business since they violated the law in getting their license. Does the party paying the bribe get away with illegal activity. Good Question.

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