PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Convention Center Authority has asked for a formal R.I. State Police investigation into whether any laws were broken when House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello ordered a controversial audit at the same time his friend was embroiled in a personnel issue there.
Authority Chairman Bernard Buonanno, Jr. and Executive Director James McCarvill made the request Friday to State Police Col. James Manni, according to a letter obtained by Target 12.
They claim the Convention Center was “threatened” with the audit, which was ordered by Mattiello last month under the auspices of the Joint Committee on Legislative Services. Target 12 first reported the audit last Wednesday.
“The Convention Center Authority requests a formal investigation by the State Police into the nexus of this request, the motivation behind it and if any laws were broken in the process,” the two men wrote.
Mattiello abruptly canceled the audit Thursday amid pushback from both the Convention Center board, which voted to not comply with it, and House Republican Leader Blake Filippi, who filed a lawsuit alleging the speaker ordered it illegally.
Mattiello on Friday called the Convention Center’s request “baseless.”
“Obviously the Convention Center Authority does not want anyone looking at its financial records,” Mattiello said. “The taxpayers were responsible for $28.4 million in support for the Convention Center in 2019 and $255 million in the last ten years. Why is the Authority so opposed to having a performance audit done?”
Mattiello’s critics have accused him of ordering the unusual audit because his friend James Demers, who is also security director at the facility and a former R.I. State Police captain, has become embroiled in a personnel issue.
As Target 12 first reported last week, Demers and a second employee, Assistant General Manager Amanda Marzullo Wilmouth, are the focus of an ongoing internal investigation and have been placed on administrative leave.
Buonanno on Thursday said there’s probably a connection between the audit and the personnel issue.
“My first reaction to [the audit] was that it was in relationship to what’s going on with Demers and Amanda, and they were reacting negatively because they didn’t agree with it,” Buonanno said. “It seems rather coincidental that while we’re going through the review of two people under investigation, that they would send an audit request.”
Mattiello, who has never ordered this type of audit before, did not shy away from his close relationship with Demers on Friday during an interview with WPRO radio, calling him “one of the most honorable guys I know.”
But the speaker adamantly rejected the claim that the audit had anything to do with their friendship and instead was based on troubling information he received about its finances.
“The timing is unfortunate, and I regret that,” he said. “I understand the way things look, but the important issue that we need to look at is if the audit is necessary.”
Reached Friday afternoon, Col. Manni declined to comment on anything related to the convention center. A spokesperson for Attorney General Peter Neronha — who was copied on the letter — also declined to comment.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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
Steph Machado, Tim White and Walt Buteau contributed to this story.