WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – Former Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt had an extensive business relationship with the developer at the center of the controversial city land transaction which helped trigger her abrupt resignation, a Target 12 investigation has discovered.
Baldelli-Hunt’s dealings with the developer, Raymond Bourque, have been just one aspect of her wide-ranging financial interests in real estate dating back to at least the early 1990s. They have also included an association with a disgraced state lawmaker who went to prison for corruption.
Baldelli-Hunt stunned the state last week when she resigned suddenly after 10 years as mayor. While she cited health concerns, her successor has acknowledged she quit in part due to scrutiny of her unilateral decision to spend $1.1 million in city-controlled funds on vacant land owned by Bourque, a well-known Woonsocket real-estate investor.
Target 12 first revealed the land transaction, which may have violated city laws and run afoul of federal rules, on Oct. 25.
Thousands of pages of land records, court documents and publicly available financial records examined by Target 12 show Baldelli-Hunt, her family and their real-estate businesses have spent millions of dollars on private deals across Woonsocket over the past three decades.
During those years, Baldelli-Hunt and her family have bought and sold vacant, residential and commercial properties. To pay for the properties, they’ve borrowed millions from various sources, including banks, credit unions, former business partners and even Bourque – who loaned Baldelli-Hunt $182,000 in 2011.
The mayor has also long been in business with former R.I. House Majority Leader Gerard Martineau. A Democrat, he was sentenced in 2008 to more than three years in prison on federal corruption charges that stemmed from a Smith Hill influence-peddling scheme dubbed “Operation Dollar Bill.”
Martineau admitted to helping CVS and Blue Cross & Blue Shield defeat legislation they opposed at the same time he was earning about $900,000 selling paper and plastic bags to the health care companies. U.S. District Judge Mari Lisi criticized him for using his office “in the most perverse way.”
Five years before he was sentenced, Baldelli-Hunt and Martineau started a real-estate company called Cumberland Hill Realty and purchased a commercial property at 846 Cumberland Hill Road. in Woonsocket. Land records show Martineau signed a $675,000 loan for the purchase. Baldelli-Hunt signed off on corporate filings.
Martineau signed another loan on the property in 2016 — six years after he was released from federal prison. The company’s 2023 corporate filing with the state shows its address is still listed as Baldelli-Hunt’s home.
Contacted by phone Thursday, Martineau declined to comment and referred all questions to Baldelli-Hunt.
‘Nothing comes to mind’
Baldelli-Hunt hasn’t responded to requests for comment since Target 12 first reported about the land deal, which she orchestrated with Bourque without City Council approval.
Ahead of Target 12’s initial report on Oct. 25, the mayor was asked whether she’d ever done any personal business with Bourque in the past and replied, “Nothing comes to mind.” Target 12 subsequently revealed the 2011 loan, along with an ethics filing in which the mayor listed Bourque as her employer.
Newly discovered land records show the two have also been repeatedly tied to the same land deals beginning as far back as 2005. At that time, Baldelli-Hunt and her husband were doing business with the late Albert Brien, another Woonsocket politician and father of current state Rep. Jon Brien.
The elder Brien and Bourque had been regular business partners over the years. But their relationship deteriorated in 2004, culminating in a flurry of competing federal and state lawsuits in which they accused each other of deceitful business tactics and deals gone awry.
In 2005, Bourque filed a federal lawsuit accusing Brien of breaching a contract tied to a Winter Street property, which he alleged Brien unilaterally sold to Baldelli-Hunt.
At one point, Bourque called on Brien to disclose all “financial records and correspondences, and communications, concerning the relationship between any of the defendants and Lisa Baldelli Hunt.”
Brien shot back via his attorney Lori Caron Silveira, “There is no ‘relationship’ between the defendants and Ms. Baldelli-Hunt.”
“Mr. Brien has known Ms. Baldelli-Hunt, as she is the niece of former Mayor [Charles] Baldelli and is also known to be an active investor in real estate in northern Rhode Island,” Silveira added. “Mr. Brien had sold Ms. Baldelli-Hunt other properties before the purchase and sale of the premise.”
The case was eventually dismissed.
‘Defendant is insolvent’
Two years after that dust-up with Brien, in 2007, Bourque and Baldelli-Hunt worked together on an unusual series of transactions tied to a commercial property at 767 Social St. in Woonsocket, according to documents.
Baldelli-Hunt – newly elected to the General Assembly at the time – created a new real-estate company called Perfick Realty, which paid $783,000 to buy the property from a second company named D&F Realty.
To make it work, Baldelli-Hunt borrowed $469,064 from the seller, D&F Realty, along with $225,936 from a former North Smithfield resident named Stasia Monty.
Within 10 months, the property landed in a tax sale because Baldelli-Hunt and the former owner failed to pay their 2007 real estate taxes on the property.
Documents show Bourque stepped in and paid $300,000 to acquire the property in a deal that had to go through a court-appointed receiver after Monty and D&F Realty president Lorraine Dykas filed claims for their debt owed.
“[We] are informed and believe that the defendant is insolvent and unable to meet its obligations as they become due,” wrote attorneys for Monty and Dykas.
“[Baldelli-Hunt] is far in arrears in payment of its obligations and there is a danger of dissipation and depreciation of the assets of the defendant,” they added.
In the end, Baldelli-Hunt’s mortgages were eliminated. A February 2009 order shows the court-appointed attorney was paid nearly $15,000 out of the $300,000 from Bourque – the rest went to Monty. It’s unclear whether Dykas received anything.
In an interview with Target 12, Monty’s son said his mother didn’t lose out on the deal, but he didn’t know the intimate details of the transaction. Dykas didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment. Baldelli-Hunt and Bourque have not responded to multiple requests for comment over the past month. In most of their dealings — both together and apart — Baldelli-Hunt and Bourque have hired the same land attorney, Lloyd Gariepy. He did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.
Despite the claim that Baldelli-Hunt’s company was insolvent in 2008, the mayor was still spending money. In fact, she appears to have attended the same tax sale where Bourque bought her property – and paid $2,826 that day for a Rathbun Street home that was also behind on its payments.
Bourque’s and Baldelli-Hunt’s names show up next to each other on a printout of the tax sales that day.
The original Rathbun Street owners were able to reclaim their property within a one-year grace period that’s allowed under state law. To do so, land records show they had to pay Baldelli-Hunt $3,335 to stop her from taking over ownership of the land – a step she had declined to take on the Social Street property with Bourque.
Bourque went on to receive a zoning variance from the city in 2021 – after Baldelli-Hunt had become mayor – and split 767 Social St. into two parcels of land. Last year, he sold one for $350,000, the other for $1.5 million, according to land records.
“Everything that has been reported is in the public’s interest to know and we have to ask ourselves why it’s only coming to light now,” said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, after reviewing some of Target 12’s findings.
While Baldelli-Hunt has disclosed many of her real-estate ventures over the decade and a half she’s been an elected official, her dealings with Bourque are largely missing from the record.
Baldelli-Hunt and other elected officials are required each year to file financial disclosures with the R.I. Ethics Commission, detailing everything from real estate holdings to outstanding debts.
A Target 12 review of 17 years of Baldelli-Hunt’s disclosures shows she never disclosed her two-year financial interest in the Rathburn Street property.
In 2011, Baldelli-Hunt failed to disclose her $182,000 loan with Bourque, which shows up in land records. Baldelli-Hunt also failed to disclose the loan in 2012 – the same year it was cleared.
“While some of it was revealed in her mandatory annual Ethics Commission filings, too much of it was not,” Marion said.
The mayor also failed to disclose a loan she and her husband took out from Sovereign Bank for a commercial property where they ran a laundromat business up the road at 1173 Social St. Land records show the loan was taken out in 2006 and it wasn’t disclosed in 2006, 2007, 2008 or 2011 ethics filings.
At that point, Baldelli-Hunt transferred ownership of the building over to her real estate holding company, Angel & Promise.
“Now we need to determine whether the lack of full disclosure was her failure or the failure of our disclosure law,” Marion said. “If it was the mayor’s failure, she should be prosecuted, if that’s still possible with our statute of limitations. If it was a failure of the law to require disclosure because of the nature of the financial instruments used, we need to strengthen our laws.”
Currently, the statute of limitations for violating the state ethics code is six years. However, it wasn’t immediately clear whether the clock starts from the time the disclosures are filed, or from the time a person has most recently signed the documents.
And Marion said it’s possible that question could come into play in the mayor’s situation. In May 2019, Baldelli-Hunt revised her ethics disclosures each year from 2012 to 2017. In July 2018, she revised her 2011 filing. It wasn’t immediately clear whether she’d revised any of the years from 2006 to 2010.
“I’m not aware that the Ethics Commission has ever faced the question of whether an amendment to a report resets the statute of limitations,” he said. “That may be tested here.”
Tim White contributed to this report.