PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In a lengthy memo filed last week in R.I. Superior Court, a lawyer representing the Providence City Council accused the city solicitor of corruption and collusion with a prominent real-estate developer.
Max Wistow, the private attorney hired by the council in August, filed a motion to intervene in a 2021 tax deal between the city and downtown developer Arnold “Buff” Chace. Wistow accused city officials — namely solicitor Jeff Dana — of knowingly breaking the law when the agreement was struck as part of a court-ordered consent agreement.
The agreement effectively gave Chace a 30-year tax break on 10 downtown properties in exchange for him making some units affordable under a state law known as “8 Law.”
Wistow alleged former the Mayor Jorge Elorza administration entered into the agreement illegally because it didn’t seek approval from the council.
The new memo filed on Oct. 19 was in response to arguments filed last month by Chace and the city against the council effort to intervene.
“In short, this was a complete scam,” Wistow wrote in the memo. “The City Solicitor, knowing that he had no right to do so, ended up handing over to Buff Chace everything demanded of the City.”
Wistow said in doing so, Dana “knowingly violated the City Charter and Ordinances, egregiously depriving the City Council of its right to approve or reject the ‘settlement.'”
Wistow argued that if the City Council wins the right to intervene, it will gain access to “further evidence of the corrupt nature of the illegal giveaway to Buff Chace; a giveaway that is
being foisted on the City and its taxpayers.”
“That additional evidence, we are confident, will take this case from where it stands right now, with nearly overwhelming evidence in favor of the City Council—to conclusive evidence in its favor,” Wistow added.
A Chace spokesperson declined to comment.
On the same day Wistow filed the new documents, two additional affidavits were also added to the case — one from Internal Auditor Gina Costa and the other from former City Treasurer James Lombardi.
Lombardi said Costa came to him in early February 2022 “expressing concern” about the consent order she learned about in January and that she “had doubts about the validity” of it.
“I, too, after discussing the matter with her, felt further investigation was needed,” Lombardi stated in the affidavit.
Lombardi said Costa told her she would work with former City Council deputy chief of staff Sean Bouchard to get answers. Lombardi said he was copied on many of their inquiries.
“As time went by, it became increasingly frustrating because Ms. Costa and Mr. Bouchard were not getting their questions answered,” he said.
“I never agreed with anyone, nor was present at any meeting, where anybody else, including the Council President, agreed that the settlement could go through without City Council approval,” Lombardi added.
In a separate affidavit filed in August, Costa explained her numerous efforts and attempts to gather information about the agreement. In a supplemental affidavit filed this month, Costa said she has continued to seek information since Wistow filed the motion to intervene.
Costa said had made 11 requests in writing since Aug. 24 for documents and information, with a deadline of Sept. 8.
“My letters requested that the information and documents be provided by September 8, 2023, but acknowledged that full compliance might not be feasible,” Costa stated in her affidavit.
Costa said she also requested “at least partial compliance” and a “privilege log” and testified that while she heard back by her deadline, she didn’t receive any of the requested documents or information.
Costa also said she got a letter back from Chief Operating Officer Courtney Hawkins, who told her that “several senior staff members” were advised not to respond to her requests, and that her requests “had been forwarded to the Law Department.”
“Solicitor Dana took the position that since there is a pending lawsuit, all oversight must cease,” Costa said.
“Importantly, no member of the Law Department can unilaterally waive privileged or otherwise protected materials and as such, compliance with your request is not appropriate,” Dana wrote in a Sept. 8 letter to Costa.
In response, Costa said she requested the names of the employees who had been instructed not to respond, and by whom.
“I have received no response,” Costa wrote on Oct. 18.
A hearing on the motion to intervene will be held Wednesday in Superior Court in Providence.