PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Former House Speaker Gordon Fox was meeting with a top 38 Studios insider months before former Gov. Don Carcieri first talked with Curt Schilling about moving the video-game company to Rhode Island, according to newly unsealed court documents.
Target 12 reported last month on lawyers disclosing Fox’s earlier involvement with 38 Studios, but the tens of thousands of pages of material just released offer more details on what transpired – while also raising many more questions about why Fox was so interested in helping the company.
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Fox’s predecessor as speaker, William Murphy, said during his deposition that he first learned about 38 Studios when he visited Fox’s State House office one night in the fall of 2009. Murphy found Fox meeting there with Tom Zaccagnino, a 38 Studios board member, and Michael Corso, a Rhode Island tax-credit broker and Fox associate who played a key role in bringing the company to Rhode Island. Fox was Murphy’s majority leader at the time.
“I was leaving for the night,” Murphy said. “I went to see Majority Leader Fox at the time to tell him I was leaving for the night, and in his office was Mr. Corso and Mr. Zaccagnino, and I was introduced to Mr. Zaccagnino.”
Murphy said he learned at the meeting that Zaccagnino was a real-estate developer and that one of his tenants in Massachusetts was Schilling’s company, 38 Studios. Murphy said he was asked if he wanted to come tour 38 Studios and if he would help Schilling get in touch with Mass. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, which he went on to do.
During the deposition Murphy reiterated what he told Target 12 last year when first asked about his 2009 visit to 38 Studios, saying he could not recall if Fox joined him for the tour. He also said he could not recall if Corso joined him.
An internal 38 Studios spreadsheet filed as part of the lawsuit indicates Murphy, Fox and Corso all signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with the company on Oct. 8, 2009. Murphy said he thought he signed the NDA when he arrived to tour 38 Studios, which suggests Fox and Corso may have been with him.
Asked whether he and Fox ever discussed 38 Studios relocating to Rhode Island, Murphy said: “Never. Never.” (Murphy was represented at his deposition by Robert Goldberg, the powerful State House lobbyist.)
That fall 2009 meeting may not have been Fox’s earliest involvement with 38 Studios, either.
During Fox’s second deposition in the lawsuit this past February, he was pressed by attorney John Bessington – a lawyer for defendant Wells Fargo – about whether he had dinner with Zaccagnino and Corso on July 21, 2009, and whether they discussed 38 Studios there. Bessington did not provide the evidence for his accusation at the time.
Fox refused to answer those or any other questions at the deposition, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 140 times during the hour-long session.
Corso separately pleaded the Fifth and also declined to answer questions during his deposition. Zaccagnino was apparently not asked about the meetings during his deposition.
Even putting the alleged July dinner aside, the fall 2009 meeting confirmed by Murphy on its own directly contradicts Fox’s statements during a heated 2012 interview on Newsmakers where he strongly defended himself regarding 38 Studios just after the company collapsed.
During the interview, Fox described a March 2010 meeting he set up between 38 Studios officials including Curt Schilling and Keith Stokes, executive director of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation (EDC) at the time. Fox said Zaccagnino, whom he met through Corso, asked him to call Stokes on their behalf – but the call came after Carcieri had struck up a conversation with Schilling during a now-infamous fundraiser at the baseball star’s home. That fundraiser was often previously cited as the start of Rhode Island’s involvement with 38 Studios.
“Was that the first time you heard about 38 Studios?” Fox was asked on the show, referring to the call from Zaccagnino after the fundraiser.
“First time 38 Studios!” Fox replied animatedly. “Obviously I’d heard of Curt Schilling, as a baseball player.”
Further evidence that Fox was already discussing a potential 38 Studios relocation deal before Carcieri met Schilling is contained in a March 3, 2010, email from Zaccagnino to Fox and Corso that was filed as part of the lawsuit.
In the email, Zaccagnino invites Fox and his partner, Marcus LaFond, to the fundraiser at Schilling’s home where he and Carcieri say they first discussed 38 Studios. The event was scheduled for the following Saturday, March 6.
“It would give us an opportunity to chat with Curt again about RI…there is really an interest to do something in the State,” Zaccagnino wrote to Fox, indicating their discussions with Schilling had already begun prior to the fundraiser. (Schilling was not deposed in the suit.)
Carcieri said during his deposition that he was surprised years later when he learned from news reports that Fox had already been discussing the company before the March 6 fundraiser at Schilling’s house.
“This was as much a surprise to me as lots of people,” Carcieri said.
“I thought I was the one giving the lead, OK?” he said. “I thought I was the one that found, you know, 38 Studios as a possible – I had no idea there were other conversations that preceded that, none whatsoever.”
A few months later, in June, the General Assembly passed legislation creating a new $125-million loan-guarantee program at the EDC. The following month, in July, the EDC agreed to put $75 million of the program toward backing a loan to lure 38 Studios to Rhode Island. The deal closed in November. The company collapsed within two years.Ted Nesi (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi Tim White (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRIEyewitness News has a team of reporters digging through documents to cover 38 Studios: Inside the Scandal. Keep checking the 38 Studios live blog on WPRI.com and catch all the latest reports on Eyewitness News on WPRI 12 and Fox Providence.