By Ted Nesi and Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The embattled Providence Community Action Program sold a house for half its assessed value to a veteran agency employee who is a close confidant of its suspended executive director, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.
ProCAP sold the 422 Pine St. property to Joseph Vileno Jr. in April 2004 for $78,500, less than half its $159,250 assessed value at the time, tax records show. That was during a period when housing values were soaring statewide. Vileno still owns the single-family home, now assessed at $107,900.
Vileno has close ties to Frank Corbishley, who was suspended as ProCAP’s executive director last month based on allegations of “staggering mismanagement” at the taxpayer-funded nonprofit. Corbishley was Vileno’s campaign manager when Vileno ran for mayor in 1986.
“I think that it’s clear to us that this is another example of what was a very cozy relationship between this individual and Mr. Corbishley,” said Bill Fischer, a spokesman for the new management tasked with saving ProCAP. The former management is under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“Mr. Corbishley was essentially running a patronage factory,” Fischer said. “There is no other way to put it.” The agency is now reviewing the 2004 property transaction, he said.
Citizens foreclosed on Vileno
Both Vileno and Corbishley have regularly listed 422 Pine St. as their addresses on campaign finance documents dating back to 2002, before ProCAP sold the house to Vileno, records reviewed by Target 12 show. Corbishley listed it as his address as recently as Sept. 30.
Vileno’s 2004 purchase of 422 Pine St. was actually the second time he bought the house. He’d previously owned it from May 1982 until Citizens Bank foreclosed on it in 1987. ProCAP bought the property from Citizens for $25,000 in September 1994, according to tax records.
The assessor’s office says 422 Pine St. is a 2,696-square-foot, 10-room old-style house built in 1900, with six bedrooms, two full bathrooms and a full basement.
Vileno was a ProCAP employee from 1997 to 2001, earning $37,130 a year as a grant-writer, Fischer told Target 12. Vileno paid $400 a month during that period to rent 422 Pine St. from ProCAP by deducting it from his paycheck, Fischer said.
In 2001, Vileno left ProCAP to work for the Cianci administration; Fischer said it’s unclear if he continued to rent the property after he left the agency. Corbishley sent Vileno a certified letter in January 2004 warning he owed ProCAP $3,200 in back rent for the property, according to Fischer.
Health benefits ‘very odd’
ProCAP gave Vileno a consulting contract in June 2006 that paid him $1,000 every two weeks plus health insurance benefits, a biweekly payment that over time increased to $1,150, Fischer said.
“It’s our understanding he was consulting around housing programs,” Fischer told Target 12. “What value Mr. Vileno was bringing to ProCAP for this level of compensation is unclear to us at this point.”
Fischer, who is now working as a consultant for ProCAP himself, said it is “very odd” for contractors to receive health benefits from a client. He said the agency is now reviewing all its contracts and plans to stop offering non-cash benefits if they are being provided. (Fischer is not receiving health insurance.)
ProCAP owes Providence taxpayers nearly $1 million for health benefits it provided its workers through the city government, WPRI.com reported last month.
Vileno’s financial arrangement with ProCAP ended on Nov. 1, when records show Corbishley terminated Vileno’s contract after an independent audit of the nonprofit’s spending was ordered by Providence City Council President Michael Solomon, Fischer said. Solomon joined ProCAP’s board in April 2005 and has chaired it since 2009.
No answer at door
ProCAP also made a one-time payment of $637.50 to Vileno on Oct. 18, 2004, six months after he purchased 422 Pine St. from the agency and between the two periods when it was paying him, according to records reviewed by officials there. “I don’t know what it’s for,” Fischer said of the $637.50 payment.
Corbishley and Vileno did not return multiple phone calls about 422 Pine St. No one answered its door when Target 12 visited the property last week, although Vileno’s car was parked in the driveway.
Mark Dana, Corbishley’s attorney, said his client was not available for comment.
ProCAP’s new management wasn’t aware of the 422 Pine St. transaction until Target 12 asked for information about it and is now reviewing the 2004 deal, according to Fischer. Solomon was not on the board at the time and it’s unclear whether the board was informed about the sale to Vileno.
“We’ve seen repeated examples of Mr. Corbishley not being forthcoming with board members,” Fischer said.
Taveras, state raise concerns
ProCAP is one of eight nonprofit community action program agencies in Rhode Island that handle social services, including heating-oil subsidies and housing assistance. ProCAP received 96% of its $16.4 million in revenue from taxpayers in 2009-10 and spent $420,773 on housing programs that year, according to its most recent tax return.
ProCAP and its subsidiary ProCAP Housing Inc. own 32 properties in Providence, tax records show.
ProCAP first made headlines in October when WPRI.com revealed growing concerns about its financial practices and Solomon’s decision to order an independent audit. Mayor Angel Taveras replaced three ProCAP board members on Nov. 15 based on the audit’s initial findings and the state has threatened to withhold millions in funding, which Solomon says jeopardizes the agency’s survival.
Fischer argued ProCAP’s decision to sell 422 Pine St. at what appears to be a deep discount to a close associate of its leader is evidence of the management practices that led the board to suspend Corbishley without pay last month. “Unfortunately, because of this type of patronage and these types of relationships, it’s led to a very dire fiscal situation at ProCAP,” he said.
Decades in Providence politics
Vileno has been involved in Providence politics for decades, most notably as an aide to former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci. Cianci first hired Vileno, a city native and former U.S. Housing and Urban Development official, in 1975 to advise him on federal grants. Vileno wrote of Cianci in 2007, “I consider him a friend.”
Corbishley was one of five ProCAP employees fired from the agency in 1984, a move critics described as part of a political purge of Cianci loyalists by Joseph Paolino, who succeeded him as mayor that year. Corbishley managed Vileno’s mayoral campaign two years later, during which Vileno was strongly critical of ProCAP’s then-leader for soliciting donations to Paolino from agency employees.
Days after Vileno lost the 1986 Democratic primary to Paolino, Corbishley went to work as the spokesman for Paolino’s Republican opponent in the general election, Charles Mansolillo, another close friend of Cianci’s who later served as his city solicitor.
Corbishley was picked from a pool of 67 applicants to become ProCAP’s executive director in June 1991, the year Cianci began his second tenure as mayor. He replaced Lawrence O’Connor, who’d led the agency since 1980 and fired Corbishley in 1984. O’Connor was criticized for failing to lead the nonprofit energetically, according to published reports at the time.
Property records show both Corbishley and Vileno own additional properties. Corbishley owns a single-family home on Edgewood Boulevard in Providence, and Vileno has owned a home in Delray Beach, Fla., since 1985, property records show.
Ted Nesi ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi
Tim White ( email@example.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @white_tim