PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – A former town administrator facing prison time for soliciting bribes apparently shot himself and was discovered in his Lincoln law office Friday, a day after a jury convicted him, prosecutors said.

Jonathan Oster, 56, maintained his innocence throughout the six years between his arrest and trial. Under Rhode Island law, defendants who die before their sentencing are considered innocent.

Police summoned by a 911 call to Oster’s office found him dead in a conference room, prosecutors said. They also found a gun, though so far there is no evidence anyone but Oster used it.

The state medical examiner has scheduled an autopsy for Monday.

“This is a tragedy upon a tragedy and, obviously, a heartbreaking loss for Mr. Oster’s family and loved ones,” Attorney General Patrick Lynch said in a written statement. “I offer them our sincerest sympathies.”

Oster served as a state senator beginning in 1997 before becoming Lincoln’s town administrator from 2000 to 2002. He was convicted Thursday of two counts each of bribery and conspiracy and faced up to 60 years in prison.

Though prosecutors expected a more lenient sentence, Lynch spokesman Mike Healey said.

A judge had set a sentencing hearing for May 8.

Prosecutors claimed that Oster and Robert Picerno, a former Lincoln planning board member, tried to extort bribes from potential buyers of a piece of town-owned property. Picerno previously pleaded no contest to bribery and conspiracy charges.

Oster’s attorney, C. Leonard O’Brien, had accused Picerno of lying and promised to appeal.

“This is a very sad event and, aside from expressing my concern for Jon’s family, there is really nothing more to say,” O’Brien wrote in an e-mail.

State Police arrested Oster on corruption charges in 2002, and the case ruined his political career.

Oster’s former campaign manager, Linda Resnevic, said the allegations against him seemed to describe a completely different man. During his runs for the state Senate in the late 1990s, Oster was a stickler for rules, urging his supporters to correctly fill out campaign donor paperwork and refusing to reward supporters with state jobs when he won, Resnevic said.

She left Oster’s campaign during his run for municipal office.

“Profoundly shocked and saddened is the only way I can describe how I feel today,” she said.

After his arrest, Oster ignored calls to resign but decided against seeking re-election.

Then-Gov. Lincoln Almond, who once held Oster’s job, urged him to step down. By the time Oster returned to work after his arrest, someone had posted his picture on a Town Hall bulletin board along with a glib reference to defendant’s rights. Berated at a Town Council meeting two months later, Oster stormed out.

“I can’t wait ’til you go to jail,” said then-Councilman Dean Lees, according to news accounts.

Oster is survived by his wife, Joan, and two daughters, Katherine and Amy. Oster’s wife declined to comment when contacted Friday.

AP-ES-02-22-08 1802EST


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