PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The investigation into whether the McKee administration broke the law when it awarded an education contract to a politically connected consulting firm in 2021 will likely reach a resolution in the next few months, according to R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha.
“We are collectively moving toward wrapping up what we need to do and then coming to some conclusions that we will be able to share publicly,” Neronha told WPRO’s Tara Granahan during a radio interview on Tuesday.
“I don’t see that as too far off,” he added. “End of the year — early first quarter of next year at the absolute latest. Really trying to move it along.”
The state’s top prosecutor and the R.I. State Police launched the probe in October 2021 after a Target 12 investigation revealed Gov. Dan McKee’s administration awarded a lucrative state contract to ILO Group following an unusual bidding process.
The consulting firm had close ties to a longtime McKee adviser. Incorporated two days after McKee’s inauguration, ILO submitted a bid for the state contract and won the bulk of the work over a rival firm that had more than two decades of experience in Rhode Island and bid far less.
The ensuing scandal has dogged McKee throughout much of his two-and-a-half years as governor. He has dismissed the allegations and bristled at questions about ILO, insisting that law enforcement will come up empty when the investigation is done.
Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha and the FBI joined Neronha’s state-level probe in March 2022, and federal agents have interviewed multiple people who had ties to state government when the ILO contract was being awarded. The University Club in Providence also received a federal subpoena.
Since then, however, news about the investigation has largely disappeared from the public eye. But McKee’s Democratic and Republican rivals latched onto the scandal during last year’s election campaign, making it a regular topic in debates and TV commercials.
McKee narrowly defeated former CVS executive Helena Foulkes in the Democratic primary, then went on to win an easy victory over GOP nominee Ashley Kalus last November.
The shadow of the ILO investigation has remained on Smith Hill, with lawmakers and political insiders periodically asking what had become of a controversy that drew prosecutors’ interest as well as oversight hearings and front-page stories for months.
“We have a lot on our plate,” Neronha said Tuesday. “The feds and us — I’m speaking generally here — there’s a different set of standards. … Sometimes it tends to go on a more federal direction, sometimes it can go in a more state direction.”
Neronha didn’t reveal much to Granahan about where the ILO investigation stands. But he pointed to the case of former House Speaker Gordon Fox as an example of an investigation that had seen both state and federal involvement.
Initially, the FBI raided Fox’s State House office in dramatic fashion. Later, the state became involved and pinned a bribery charge on the former speaker, who ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison.
In other instances, Neronha added, state and federal investigations can result in nothing at all.
“Sometimes cases will go along and there could be a resolution when there’s nothing there at all,” he said. “But we’ll see and we’ll share what we have with the public.”
Tim White and Ted Nesi contributed to this report.