By Elizabeth Barber
(Reuters) - The former speaker of Rhode Island's statehouse pleaded guilty on Tuesday to federal charges relating to alleged corruption, admitting he used campaign funds to buy baubles at Tiffany and accepted more than $50,000 in bribes, according to officials and court papers.
Democrat Gordon Fox has accepted a plea deal under which he will serve three years in federal prison for bribery, wire fraud and filing a false tax return during his two decades in office, a tenure that ended abruptly in March 2012 when he resigned three days after the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided his home and office.
"His corrupt conduct has resulted from his removal from high office, and deservedly so," Peter Neronha, the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island, told reporters on Tuesday. "When you violate the public trust, you shouldn't get a second chance."
Fox used some $108,000 in donations to his campaign fund to make payments on his mortgage and car loan, as well as to shop at retailers including Tiffany & Co, Urban Outfitters and Wal-Mart, Neronha said. Fox has also admitted to using $4,000 from campaign funds to finance construction on a hair salon he partly owned.
A federal indictment lists 27 instances in which Fox transferred funds from the campaign account into his personal account.
Fox has also admitted to accepting a $52,500 bribe from the owners of Shark Bar and Grills, near Brown University, in 2008 in exchange for helping to secure a liquor license for the new restaurant. Fox was at the time vice chairman of Providence’s board of licenses.
Fox was released after his arraignment on Tuesday afternoon and is due for sentencing on June 11 at the U.S. District Court in Providence. While leaving court, Fox told reporters he "definitely" felt remorse for the felonies, local media reported.
Fox was the state's first openly gay House speaker and is credited with seeing through the legalization of same-sex marriage in Rhode Island in 2013.
Fox could not be reached for immediate comment.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Barber in Boston; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Lambert)