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Convention Center asks for early audit amid Mattiello controversy

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Convention Center Authority board is calling on state officials to expedite an audit scheduled for later this year, hoping it “puts to rest any doubts regarding the authority’s willingness or readiness to participate in an open, transparent audit process.”

Authority Chairman Bernard Buonanno Jr. on Thursday sent a letter to R.I. Department of Administration director Brett Smiley, asking the Office of Internal Audit to move up its regularly scheduled audit of the Convention Center, currently slated for November.

“We are hopeful that the schedule can be significantly accelerated,” Buonanno wrote.

Convention Center executive director James McCarvill argues the board has nothing to hide, pointing out that in addition to the regularly scheduled DOA audits, the facility opens its books to private auditing firms each year and the results are posted online.  

“We’ll do any audit you want to do,” he said Friday during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.  

The request comes amid an ongoing scandal surrounding Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who ordered a separate audit of the facility last month at the same time his friend – James Demers – was the subject of a personnel investigation at the Convention Center.  

R.I. State Police are now investigating the circumstances surrounding the Mattiello audit, which he ordered under the auspices of the Joint Committee on Legislative Services. Investigators have already interviewed several people, including JCLS executive director Frank Montanaro, a key member of the speaker’s inner circle.

Target 12 first reported the Mattiello-ordered audit on Jan. 15, sparking a series of events including the state police probe as well as a lawsuit filed by House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, who is challenging the speaker’s authority over the JCLS. Mattiello currently controls the committee and as a result the legislature’s $45 million budget.  

The Convention Center board last week voted not to comply with the Mattiello audit and called on state police to investigate why it was ordered and whether any laws were broken in the process. (Mattiello dropped it almost immediately after.) State police have focused on whether Mattiello ordered the audit in retaliation for the how Demers was treated at the center where he is security director.

Mattiello confronted veteran Convention Center board member Paul MacDonald about the treatment of Demers last month, according to multiple sources. The speaker later ordered the audit through Montanaro and the JCLS two days before Christmas.

Demers, a former state police detective commander, and a second Convention Center employee, Amanda Marzullo Wilmouth, are currently on administrative leave. Wilmouth is working out a separation agreement with the Convention Center operator ASM Global, according to her attorney. A lawyer for Demers has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Mattiello has repeatedly denied it had anything to do with his friend, and instead said he ordered it after hearing troubling information related to the finances of the Providence facility.  

McCarvill has his doubts.

“The timing being associated with the personnel matter – it certainly looks like it was something that was related,” the executive director said.

DOA audits each of the 18 quasi-public agencies in Rhode Island on a five-year rolling basis. Last month, the department released its 2020-2025 schedule, which shows the Convention Center, the R.I. Tobacco Settlement Financing Corp. and the R.I. Resource Recovery Corp. are up for audits this year.

Mattiello has suggested he will introduce legislation this year giving the R.I. Auditor General, who serves the General Assembly, the authority to also audit all quasi-public agencies. The speaker has also suggested the DOA audits are insufficient.

“We’re fine to do an audit. We’ll do an audit with [DOA], we’ll do a performance audit with the auditor general – no problem,” McCarvill said. “It’s history, it’s all just records. And we’d be happy to do that.”

DOA spokesperson Brenna McCabe said the department is open to the request.

“Currently, the Office of Internal Audit is fully engaged in the annual state agency auditing process, but we always try to be flexible and are looking at the auditing schedule to see if we can accommodate the Convention Center’s request,” McCabe said in a statement.

Mattiello’s spokesperson Larry Berman said the speaker was pleased to see the Convention Center wants the audit to be done quickly, and suggested it should be done by an outside group.

“He would recommend that since the last audit done in 2016 by the [DOA] was limited in scope, that the Convention Center should instead strongly consider hiring an independent firm,” Berman wrote in an email. “A highly comprehensive performance audit is needed and it should focus on how our Convention Center compares to the performance of convention centers in other states.”

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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