Friday, March 6, 2009

Former House Majority Leader Seeks Early Release

By Katie Mulvaney

Journal Staff Writer


PROVIDENCE — Former House majority leader Gerard M. Martineau wants to be released from prison and he’s relying on a Superior Court decision that found the state Constitution protects legislators from prosecution based on their votes or other legislative activities to make his case.

Martineau argued in a motion filed last Friday in U.S. District Court that Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan’s decision to dismiss ethics charges against former Senate President William V. Irons supports a reduction in his federal prison term. Darigan ruled last fall that the Ethics Commission couldn’t prosecute Irons based on his legislative activities because of the “speech-in-debate” clause in the state Constitution.

The “intervening change of law is ideally situated” to his case, Martineau wrote, representing himself.

His crime, Martineau said, “lays squarely in his failure to file a conflict-of-interest [report] based upon actions he took while in his official capacity and therefore are legislatively privileged.” He acted in the scope of his duties and should be afforded the same protection of the speech-in-debate clause, he said.

Martineau is seeking immediate release, according to Thomas Connell, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Robert Clark Corrente’s office. Connell declined to comment further.

Martineau was the second Rhode Island legislator to go to prison in Operation Dollar Bill, the long-running federal corruption probe of influence peddling at the State House.

He pleaded guilty in 2007 to a $911,400 corruption scheme in which he sold plastic bags to the pharmacy giant CVS and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island — including payment for 8 million Blue Cross bags that didn’t exist. In return, Martineau acted favorably on legislation for the companies. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison last March for two counts of depriving the state of honest services.

Martineau, 50, of Woonsocket, served in the House of Representatives from 1987 to 2002, acting as majority leader his last four years in office.

Martineau said he accepts full responsibility, but argues his relationship with CVS predated his legislative career and that prosecutors miscalculated the loss his actions caused the state. He requested that the court lower the calculation from $911,400 to “Nil” or alternatively $195,400, and reduce his sentence.

In addition, the former legislator cited an impeccable prison record in Fort Dix, N.J. He is being considered, he said, for the position of town driver, “the most coveted employment position available.” He regularly attends Mass and other religious-study programs, mentors inmates and participates in a softball league. He anticipated a May 2010 release, but asked that he be reunited with his family sooner, particularly his 14-year-old son.

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission has asked the state Supreme Court to overturn Darigan’s decision regarding Irons, arguing it throws into question the commission’s authority with respect to legislators. The Rhode Island Supreme Court will hear arguments May 13.

Irons, an insurance salesman, abruptly resigned on Dec. 31, 2003, after two decades in the state Senate. He had opposed pharmacy-choice legislation that CVS, the pharmacy giant and a company that he had sold insurance to, wanted killed.

The Journal disclosed that Irons, then chairman of the Senate committee that handled health care, had collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions since 1997 on a Blue Cross policy covering CVS workers in Rhode Island.

The Ethics Commission found probable cause that Irons broke the code of ethics by using his public office to financially benefit his business associate, CVS. The next step would typically have been a hearing before the commission. Irons, however, went to court in an attempt to block the commission prosecution. Darigan accepted Irons’ arguments.

John Marion, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Rhode Island, said he didn’t think Martineau’s argument would hold much weight since it referenced a state court decision, though the case was brought against him in federal court.

Common Cause, too, objects to Darigan’s ruling. “We think there is potential this could hamstring the Ethics Commission in all its dealing with legislators,” Marion said. “We’re hopeful it will be overturned.”

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