The Providence Journal / Andrew Dickerman
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Police Detective Joseph A. Colanduono, a highly respected “narc” who fell in with crooks, pleaded guilty in Superior Court Thursday to drug-dealing conspiracy and other charges.
Colanduono admitted for all intents and purposes that he put himself in the service of drug dealer Albert B. Hamlin, who Colanduono's unwitting supervisors in the Providence Police Department and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration knew only as the detective's longtime confidential informant.
When their illicit business was uncovered, Hamlin turned on Colanduono and agreed to help the Rhode Island State Police sting his confederate. The veteran police officer was tricked into committing a theft — one of the counts to which he plead guilty.
Both men were snared in Operation Deception, a joint investigation by the state police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of a drug-peddling ring in Providence. Albert Hamlin three weeks ago pleaded guilty to 24 charges and remains in prison pending sentencing.
At least 22 other people were charged in the investigation, including three more Providence officers: Patrolman Robert J. Hamlin Jr., Albert Hamlin's older brother; narcotics Detective Robert M. Enright; and Sgt. Stephen T. Gonsalves. All four are suspended from duty without pay.
State police say the ring, which mostly dealt in cocaine, was led by Albert Hamlin, a carpet layer who had never been arrested but whose knowledge of the drug underworld made him Colanduono's confidential informant for 10 years and who was registered as such with the Providence police and the DEA. At the time they were arrested, Colanduono and Enright had been on a long-term assignment with a DEA task force in Rhode Island.
In a hearing at the Licht Judicial Complex downtown, Judge Robert D. Krause accepted Colanduono's plea on four felony charges: two counts of conspiracy to twice deliver drugs to Gonsalves; larceny over $500; and harboring a criminal. Five charges were withdrawn.
In the process the judge accepted a plea deal between Colanduono and the office of Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch in which five of the original nine charges were dismissed and Colanduono will face a maximum 20-year prison sentence, with a maximum 10 years to serve and the balance suspended with probation.
Krause, working within the limits of that deal, said he would impose sentence next month.
Colanduono, 45, of 9 Bayberry Drive, West Warwick, who is married and the father of four children, ages 3, 15, 16 and 18, was sent back to the Adult Correctional Institutions, where he is being held without bail.
As he turned to leave, Colanduono gave his wife, Tracey, 41, who was in the audience, a small smile.
“He's a good man,” Mrs. Colanduono said later. “When he comes home, I'll be waiting for him.”
When the state police arrested Albert Hamlin on March 4, he was quick to implicate Colanduono, and Hamlin agreed to help them set up his coconspirator, the authorities have disclosed.
At the direction of the troopers, on the same day, Hamlin telephoned Colanduono and said he was doing business with a man at the Home Depot store on Charles Street. He wanted Colanduono to help him with a rip-off.
Would Colanduono go to the man's white van left unattended in the park-and-ride lot across the street from the Home Depot and grab $2,000 that the man had stashed in an envelope in the glove box, Hamlin asked. Hamlin said he had managed to leave the van unlocked. Actually, troopers had staged the van and the money.
Colanduono, driving an undercover Providence police car, completed the errand and returned to police headquarters.
Colanduono then was summoned by his superiors to a conference room in the police chief's office suite and arrested, and the envelope of cash was taken from his pants pocket. As Assistant Attorney General Pamela E. Chin expressed it in court Thursday, he stole the state police's money.
The harboring count pertains to an unusual incident in North Providence in which Hamlin, impersonating a police officer, boarded a Federal Express delivery truck in a shopping center parking lot in a fruitless search for a package containing five pounds of marijuana that had been sent to him from Texas. Hamlin has admitted what he did and that he carried a badge and a gun.
On Nov. 12, 2009, he boarded the truck of driver Claudio Brito, 33, and said he was a police officer working on a drug case. Although the details of the incident are murky, Hamlin at one point gave Brito his cell phone number.
Chin told the judge Thursday that when Colanduono learned of the incident, he told Hamlin to dump his cell phone and that he gave Hamlin advice about how to avoid detection and arrest.
When a Federal Express security officer contacted the DEA to ask if it was a DEA operative who accosted their driver, Colanduono and Enright, in their capacities on the task force, were assigned to interview the driver. But the detectives allegedly only went through the motions of investigating.
Thursday's plea continues a long fall from grace for Colanduono, who joined the police force in 1987, had been a key player in important drug cases in Providence and the region, and had won significant awards.
He said little at the hearing, other than to identify himself and to plead guilty.
Despite the plea, Tracey Colanduono insisted later, “He didn't cross the line. He was just doing his job.”
“He's a great cop. He always will be.”
She was accompanied by Amy DiNobile, a clerk at City Hall and Colanduono's former sister-in-law, who has been helping to take care of the Colanduono children.
“Being an undercover cop is a tough and dirty job,” DiNobile said, in which an officer has to pretend to be a criminal.
“The end result is, he didn't kill anybody. Let him go to work. Give him a [electronic monitoring] bracelet. Why have another family go into the system.”
Standing on the courthouse steps, Tracey Colanduono said, “I'm glad it's over.”
“Now it's time to rebuild.”
TIMELINE Operation Deception
Nov. 20, 2009: State police begin a wiretap investigation of Albert B. Hamlin after getting information from an informant. They later describe Hamlin as a high-level drug dealer.
February: State police electronically monitor for a month the police car of Providence narcotics Detective Joseph A.
March 4: State police arrest on drug charges six people including Colanduono and two other officers who they say were helping to protect a drug operation run by Hamlin. State police say the investigation is continuing.
March 5: Four officers, including narcotics Detective Robert M. Enright, are placed on desk duty at Providence police headquarters as a result of the state police investigation.
March 8: Mayor David N. Cicilline directs Police Chief Dean M. Esserman to conduct random drug testing of Providence officers. One of the officers charged by state police, Sgt. Stephen T. Gonsalves, was a cocaine user, they said.
March 10: Cicilline withdraws the drug testing order in the face of opposition from the police union and the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.
April: Colanduono and another officer charged, Patrolman Robert J. Hamlin Jr., brother of Albert Hamlin, are ordered held without bail.
June 7: Statewide grand jury indicts 24 people in connection with Operation Deception, including Colanduono and the
Nov. 18: Albert Hamlin pleads guilty to 24 charges after negotiations with the attorney general's office. Fourteen other charges are dropped.
Dec. 9: Colanduono pleads guilty to four charges against him. Five others are dropped as a result of plea negotiations with the attorney general's office.