Gordon Fox, former Speaker of the House for the General Assembly, pleaded guilty to federal charges of accepting bribes, wire fraud and filing a false tax return Tuesday. By pleading guilty to these charges, Fox accepted a plea deal that includes a three-year federal prison sentence.
In 2008, while vice chair of the Providence Board of Licenses, Fox accepted bribes totaling $52,500 from Shark Bar and Grille on Thayer Street in exchange for a liquor license, despite community opposition at the time. Fox also transferred $108,000 from campaign and political action committee funds, and used it for personal expenses between 2008 and 2014. He also admitted to deliberately falsifying claims with the Board of Elections to account for the diversion of these funds. Fox did not record either of the illegal income sources on his tax returns.
Fox’s guilty plea marks the end of an 18-month investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office and Rhode Island State Police. Sentencing is scheduled for June 11, the Associated Press reported.
After being elected Speaker in 2010, Fox stepped down from the position following a raid of his Statehouse office and his home by state police and agents from the IRS and FBI last March, though he remained in the legislature through the end of his term.
The Statehouse “should be occupied by elected officials who hold office to serve the people, not themselves,” said U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha, one of the prosecutors on the case, according to a March 3 press release.
“It’s an incredible privilege to serve the people,” Neronha told the Associated Press. “It’s a privilege, not a right.”
According to the case file, Fox met with two founding partners in Shark Bar at his Providence law office in 2008 and agreed to accept money in exchange for using his power as vice chair to ensure that their liquor license application would be granted.
At an Aug. 29 Board of Licenses hearing, Fox advocated “in detail” for the restaurant’s application and moved that the board approve it. The liquor license was approved 3-0 with one member of the board absent. Shark Bar’s liquor license has been approved every year since its 2008 opening.
Subsequently, the same owners met again with Fox at his law office and gave him $17,500 in cash and $17,500 in checks in exchange for Fox’s official actions. One of the owners brought checks from a third silent partner for an additional $17,500. The names of these three partners are not indicated in the case file.
One of the co-founders of Shark Bar and current owner is Ray Hugh, who also owns Shanghai Restaurant, Skewers and at the time XTreme Pizza and Wings. Hugh declined to comment for this story.
Neronha has not said whether the government will investigate the bar, the Associated Press reported. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said in a statement that his administration is “investigating whether the license can be legally revoked.”