Hubris ’“R” Us

Corruption is propelled by petty power needs
By MARY ANN SORRENTINO  |  February 7, 2007
Rhode Islanders are once again preparing to watch an elected official head to prison. This time, it is former senator John Celona of North Providence, not exactly the kind of guy a slick player like Bob Urciuoli would allow to control his destiny.
 
Yet Urciuoli apparently did just that, and Celona appears to have willingly forfeited a position of honor and power beyond his boyhood dreams.
 
Buddy Cianci will soon be home, fresh from the federal can. Few felons can match Buddy brain cell for brain cell. He’s extremely bright and incredibly quick-witted, yet seemingly unable to avoid self-destructive behavior. If Celona and Cianci define the intellectual spectrum for corruption, IQ, we can conclude, is not a factor.
 
Former Speaker Ed Manning got into a jackpot over a few hundred bucks of carpeting for his home. As a young girl at the time, I was confused by the adult reaction: “If you’re going to steal, steal a million bucks!” Few were surprised the deal had gone down. They just seemed disappointed that a guy would take such a big risk for such a small payoff.
 
Yet most corruption seems penny ante. Public figures gone wrong (and their families) are usually ruined for a few bucks, a roll in the hay, or some other cheap and momentary thrill.
 
What were they thinking?
 
It’s probably a magnified version of what more law-abiding types think when they swipe those little bottles of shampoo and body lotion from the hotel room. They’re thinking what elderly people (even financially secure ones) think when they take home all the sugar packets and Equal at the table. They’re just thinking it times five.
 
Omnipotent lawmaker Matty Smith and Chief Justice Tom Fay fell from grace over free flowers and spiritual bouquets that they allegedly sent, on the state tab, to ailing and mourning colleagues. You can buy a Mass for anyone, living or dead, for about 20 bucks. A plant can be delivered anywhere in the state for about twice that. What would be missing is the sense of getting away with it (and the blast of others knowing that you could do so).
 
We usually blame corruption on material greed, ignoring how the thrill of being able to execute the scam is often the primary motivation.
 
People willing to throw away their good names for relatively small prizes have an addictive desire to be recognized as powerful, to be treated with deference because of who and what they know, and even to be feared because of the influence they supposedly wield. These are the prizes targeted by moral midgets.
 
Prosecutor Robert Clark Corrente promises more where Celona, Urciuoli and Fran Driscoll came from. As long as the lust to “get more” feeds on the thrill of “getting away with it” — across party line and intellectual class, unhindered by race, creed, ability, gender, or sexual preference — such prosecutors will be shooting fish in a barrel.
  Topics: This Just In , John Celona, Buddy Cianci, Bob Urciuoli,  More more >
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