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Ethics Commission dismisses GOP complaint against McKee’s former chief of staff

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Ethics Commission has tossed out a complaint against Gov. Dan McKee’s former chief of staff, Anthony Silva, concluding there wasn’t enough probable cause to prove Silva violated the state’s ethics code.

The state’s Ethics Commission voted 7-0 in executive session to dismiss the complaint, filed by the Rhode Island Republican Party in August. The state’s GOP accused Silva, who was the governor’s top aide at the time, of violating the state’s ethics code by failing to disclose his financial ties to a controversial piece of Cumberland property between 2017 and 2020.

“There does not exist probable cause to believe the respondent, Anthony Silva, the former chief of staff to the lieutenant governor and to the governor of the state of Rhode Island, violated Rhode Island general laws,” Ethics Commission Chairperson Marisa Quinn said after the commission met in executive session Tuesday morning.

The meeting was held remotely due to the ongoing pandemic, and commission members did not immediately explain the rationale behind their decision since the discussion about the Silva complaint was held in private. Quinn said they would release a decision and order with more details explaining the basis of the vote at a later time. Ethics Commission executive director Jason Gramitt said the written decision could take a week or two to finalize.

Rhode Island GOP chairwoman Sue Cienki said she was “surprised” by the commission’s ruling, adding that she would provide more comments after she “read the order and their reasoning.”

“The Ethics Commission stated the statue was ambiguous, yet they had years to clarify the statue and have not done so,” she added. “Additionally, their interpretation of the statue as ambiguous allows politicians to hide their financial interest in property. Hiding a financial interest is not beneficial for the public’s ability to have transparency about a public official’s dealings.”

Silva and the governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The complaint was filed in August amid a controversy involving Silva’s efforts to develop a wetlands property at 45 Canning St. in Cumberland. The former chief of staff is now the subject of an investigation by the Rhode Island attorney general’s office examining whether Silva used his position of power to try and pressure local officials into making the deal work.

A series of text messages and emails show Silva continued to press Cumberland Mayor Jeff Mutter to withdraw the town’s objections to the development after Silva became chief of staff to the governor, and long after he claimed to have given up his financial interest in the property. Silva has maintained he did nothing wrong.

The GOP’s complaint accused Silva of not disclosing the Canning Street property in his mandatory annual financial disclosures that many high-ranking state officials and elected lawmakers are required to file with the state’s Ethics Commission each year.

Silva stepped down shortly after the controversy erupted into public view, becoming the shortest-tenured chief of staff to a newly inaugurated Rhode Island governor since 1991, when Ed Wood lasted only 79 days as the top aide to Democrat Bruce Sundlun.

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

Ted Nesi and Tim White contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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