By DALE P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — A Providence businessman whose criminal history includes fraud charges that led to a federal prison sentence said he has been hired to perform an analysis of Copar Quarries of Westerly and its affiliates.
In a conference call interview that included his lawyer, the businessman, Michael F. Sparfven, confirmed that he was hired “to engage a review and analysis, including a forensic analysis, of the historic activities of Copar.”
Sparfven was sentenced to 6½ years in federal prison on Jan. 9, 2004, after pleading guilty in connection with a 39-count indictment charging him with wire fraud, bank fraud, and embezzlement. He remains on probation for separate state charges of first-degree robbery and conspiracy stemming from his arrest in 2002 by police in North Providence. Kidnapping charges from the North Providence arrest were dismissed.
Bruce Gladstone, Sparfven’s lawyer, said Sparfven was hired to review Copar’s financial books by representatives of Philip Armetta, a one-time business associate of Sam Cocopard, Copar’s former president and chief executive officer. Gladstone is the brother of Jeffrey Gladstone, the lawyer who represents Copar in its land use lawsuits with the town and neighbors of the quarry. The Gladstones practice law in Providence with different law firms.
Armetta, who has also spent time in a federal prison, is Copar’s primary investor and its top creditor, having invested “millions” in the company, Sparfven said.
Cocopard was dismissed from his position with the company on March 3. “Mr. Cocopard was let go for cause,” Sparfven said, adding that his preliminary analysis of Copar’s books led to Cocopard’s forced departure.
Liz Burdick, Copar project manager and compliance officer, confirmed that Cocopard was let go “for cause.” Burdick is the Town of Westerly’s former zoning officer. She once issued cease and desist orders to the company and later claimed she had been the target of retaliation and harassment by town officials.
Cocopard, reached by telephone on Friday, denied any wrongdoing and also disputed Sparfven’s role with the company.
“He was never hired to perform a forensic audit, he was hired to raise money for inventory financing only. We don’t need an accountant, I have an accountant, including a forensic accountant,” Cocopard said. “We certainly don’t need this guy, he doesn’t even have a degree, he’s a tenth grade dropout.”
All of Copar’s financial transactions were handled by other company officials, Cocopard said. He also denied charges by Sparfven that he had “victimized” Armetta. “Phil Armetta is a man of great means,” Cocopard said. “He knew exactly what Randy Roberge and I were doing when we started the company.” Roberge is Copar’s chief financial officer.
Cocopard, a Connecticut resident, said he has been “approached with many opportunities” for future employment since leaving Copar but has not yet accepted a new position. He also said that Copar owes him more than $49,000 in back wages.
Armetta and his family, Sparfven said, were recently assigned a corporate controlling interest in Copar as part of a “conversion of debt to equity.”
When asked to describe the aging Armetta’s well being, Sparfven said that Armetta, the former owner of Dainty Rubbish in Middletown, Conn., appears fully engaged and aware of Copar’s activities. Bruce Gladstone said Antonia “Toni” Armetta, Philip’s wife, often accompanies her husband, who is in his 80s, to business meetings and is “very sharp.”
According to a Providence Journal news story, Sparfven was granted early release, in February 2009, from his federal prison sentence after he agreed to testify against Angelo Prisco, a New Jersey mobster he had befriended in prison. Prisco, who was known as a longtime member of the Genovese crime family, was eventually given a life sentence on a murder charge.
Sparfven was not tried on the state charges. Aware that he had assisted federal law enforcement officials in the Prisco case, state officials accepted Sparfven’s no contest plea to two counts of first-degree robbery and two counts of felony conspiracy. The state also agreed to allow Sparfven’s time in federal prison to serve as his sentence on the state charges.
The state charges arose from two incidents: Sparfven created a sham jewelry store, arranged for jewelry wholesalers to arrive, and was charged with tying them up, assaulting them, and robbing $6,000 in cash and $20,000 in jewelry, according to the Providence Journal article. He also arranged for the robbery of workers at a Providence company.
Sparfven was president of a forensic accounting firm called Quantum International Group Inc. as of 2012. The company has since changed its name to Arcana. He is no longer listed, in state records, as a principal in the company.
DEBT TO SOCIETY PAID
During the interview Friday, Sparfven acknowledged his criminal record but said it is behind him. “I paid my debt to society,” he said.
Bruce Gladstone said that Sparfven always informs potential clients of his criminal background before he is hired. Lloyd’s of London, AIG, and Citizens Financial Group were among his past clients, according to Sparfven.
Sparfven is not the only current or past Copar employee with a criminal history. Armetta pleaded guilty in 2007 to a single charge of concealing knowledge of a felony following a federal investigation of Connecticut trash haulers. He was sentenced to three months in prison and three months of home confinement.
Cocopard pleaded no contest in January 2013 to a charge of fourth-degree larceny. He was accused of accepting $20,000 for gravel that he never delivered to a customer. He was ordered to repay the customer and given an one-year suspended prison sentence and placed on probation for 18 months.
Copar’s financial status has come into question in recent weeks. In February, John Deacon, a Providence lawyer appointed by a Rhode Island Superior Court judge to monitor the quarry operations, filed a motion asking a judge to force Copar to pay his overdue bill of $41,707.
Deacon withdrew the motion after receiving partial payment. Sparfven said Deacon has since been paid in full.
Cocopard said that he himself gave Copar $16,000, about three days before he left the company, to ensure that a check for payment to Deacon did not bounce.
Copar Trucking LLC, an affiliate of the quarry operation, is facing a collections lawsuit filed by Hess Corporation for $170,575 worth of overdue diesel fuel bills. Sparfven said the bill is under review and will be paid if it is determined that the charges are legitimate expenses incurred by Copar.
Sparfven acknowledged recent cash flow problems at Copar and said some of the problems have been addressed. “Since certain suspicious transactions were uncovered, Mr. Armetta has injected new capital to cure various immediate problems.”
Armetta’s top priorities, Sparfven said, are Copar’s employees and the company’s reputation.
CHURCH ST. QUARRY
Copar has operated a quarry on Church Street, on land it leases from the Westerly Granite Co. Inc., since late 2010. The principals of Westerly Granite Co. Inc. include its president, Richard Comolli, who is a former Westerly Town Council president, his sons, George and David, and other relatives.
When asked to describe the volume of stone material that could be harvested from the Church Street site, Sparfven said he had recently recommended a study to determine the “amount and quality of product and to determine whether it’s a viable project.”
Emails obtained by The Sun reveal Sparfven’s discussions of Copar’s finances. “I did not ask for this responsibility you corralled me into this as a lifeline. The ultimate decision on my recommendations will be Mark and Toni’s,” Sparfven wrote in a Feb. 28 email.
The references to Mark and Toni are apparent references to Mark Balaban, a Middletown, Conn., lawyer who represents Armetta, and to Toni Armetta, Philip’s wife. Armetta’s Middletown business address is the same as Copar’s headquarters — 90 Industrial Park, Middletown, Conn. Balaban did not return a message seeking comment.
In the Feb. 28 message, Sparfven refers to an upcoming Copar managers meeting and indicates he will “have both Mr. Little and Coia available by phone.”
“It’s my opinion that irrespective of the unforeseen legal and other collateral issues this business is dysfunctional, void of structure or experienced management. You have squandered an amazing opportunity,” Sparfven wrote.
The identity of the Mr. Little referred to in the email is unclear. An individual named Arthur D. Little is listed on the website of one of Sparfven’s other business pursuits, Lime Street LLC, as the venture’s chairman and chief executive officer. According to the website, Lime Street is a “boutique investment banking firm.” The website lists Sparfven as the firm’s executive director.
According to state records, Lime Street was formed in 2010 and is represented by Bruce Gladstone.
The state records have no listing for any of Lime Street’s employees. Bruce Gladstone is listed as the firm’s agent for service, a position typically held by lawyers who are given the role to ensure that legal documents are properly transmitted to corporations. The first name of the Mr. Coia referred to in the email is not clear.
In a March 1 email, Sparfven writes, “you have asked for my assistance in dealing with Copar’s frustrated creditors and as you know I have been negotiating with Copar’s creditors on a daily basis.” He goes on to say, “At Copar’s request I have negotiated standstill agreements with several creditors based on my representations a closing was forthcoming.”
The messages were sent to Cocopard, David Gussak, a lawyer who represents Cocopard and who has appeared locally at land use meetings on Copar’s behalf; Jeffrey Gladstone, Roberge, Michael Blanchard, a lawyer with the New London, Conn., law firm of Suisman Shapiro; George Comolli; representatives of Copar; and one other individual whose identity is unclear.
Reached on Wednesday, Jeffrey Gladstone said he was not certain of Sparfven’s role with Copar.
“I do know people have been brought in to find some financing to build up the company resources. They’re trying to right a ship that was not well maintained as a result of Mr. Cocopard’s activities,” Gladstone said.
Activity at the quarry picked up last week. Gladstone said signs of increased work at the site reflect a change in the weather and the start of the construction season.
Copar is conducting a search for a new president and chief executive officer, Sparfven said.