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Convention Center hit with audit as House speaker’s friend put on leave

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – One of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s top aides has ordered a performance audit of the R.I. Convention Center Authority at the same time that the agency is grappling with a personnel issue involving one of Mattiello’s friends.

The personnel matter involves former R.I. State Police Captain James Demers, director of security at the Convention Center. Demers lives in Mattiello’s Western Cranston district and has made two campaign contributions to him, and the two were described as friends by four people familiar with their relationship.

In addition, Demers’s son, Garrett Demers, was hired by the House of Representatives in January 2017 and currently earns $45,045 a year as the Judiciary Committee’s assistant clerk. (The younger Demers was previously in the news when allegations surfaced that a state police lieutenant was pressured to alter his background check report when Demers tried to become a trooper.)

Target 12 has learned both James Demers and another Convention Center executive, Assistant General Manager Amanda Marzullo Wilmouth, have been placed on administrative leave. Calls to each were not immediately returned. The situation has been a growing topic of discussion among Rhode Island political insiders in recent weeks.

• Reaction: RI GOP calls timing of Convention Center audit ‘suspicious’

The performance audit of the Convention Center and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center is being conducted by Auditor General Dennis Hoyle, who is appointed by General Assembly leaders. The letter informing the Convention Center about the audit, obtained by Target 12, was hand-delivered two days before Christmas.

“I have been directed by the Joint Committee on Legislative Services to conduct a performance audit of the Rhode Island Convention Center,” Hoyle wrote in the letter. “The scope of the audit will include, but not be limited to, the various administrative functions of the Convention Center Authority including purchasing, finance and personnel.”

The Joint Committee on Legislative Services, or JCLS, administers the General Assembly’s $46 million annual budget and is controlled by the speaker. Its executive director is former state Rep. Frank Montanaro Jr., a key member of Mattiello’s inner circle, and Hoyle copied Montanaro on the letter about the audit.

In response to multiple questions from Target 12, Mattiello spokesperson Larry Berman issued a one-sentence statement: “Information was received that indicated an audit was appropriate.” He neither confirmed nor denied whether the speaker or anyone around him had brought up the Demers situation with Convention Center officials.

The Convention Center Authority, a quasi-public agency, owns both its namesake facility and the Dunk. But the authority itself has only three employees, while the rest of the facilities’ staff members work for ASM Global, the Los Angeles-based company that manages their day-to-day operations.

Hoyle acknowledged the audit is unusual. “Based on a quick look, I don’t believe we have done a performance audit of one of the state quasi-public agencies, including the Convention Center, in the last 10 years,” he said in an email.

Audits of the quasi-public agencies are usually done by the executive branch, not the legislative branch, through the Office of Internal Audit, he said.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio is technically vice chairman of JCLS, but in practice the five-member committee’s powers are exercised by the speaker and his aides. Ruggerio spokesperson Greg Pare confirmed the Senate president was not consulted about the Convention Center audit.

“He learned about it when the auditor general copied him on a letter stating he had been instructed by JCLS to conduct the audit,” Pare told Target 12.

James McCarvill, the authority’s executive director, said the underlying personnel issue involving Demers is in the hands of ASM.

“They are ASM’s employees,” McCarvill said in a phone interview. “It’s their job to deal with it.”

He added, “As far as I know they are going to deal with it,” saying his understanding is ASM will take action “sooner rather than later.”

Larry Lepore, the Convention Center’s general manager, referred all questions about Demers and Wilmouth to ASM. A call to an ASM executive was not immediately returned.

McCarvill, who has been at the Convention Center Authority since 1997, said he couldn’t recall the agency ever before being subject to a legislative-directed performance audit. He said he sat down with the auditor general last Friday to begin the process and they had a “good meeting.”

“We’re moving in the right direction. We’ve had some good success with concerts at the Dunk,” McCarvill said. “Numbers are good and they’re getting better.”

McCarvill acknowledged he was aware of the relationship between Demers and Mattiello, telling Target 12, “I would say they are friendly.”

Asked whether there was a connection between the audit and the ongoing personnel matter, McCarvill responded, “I can’t assign motive. I don’t know. … I know we will cooperate fully. We had a good productive year.”

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

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

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

Walt Buteau contributed to this report.

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

Providence

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