PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Federal and state law enforcement interviewed multiple people with ties to Rhode Island government this week as part of an expanded investigation into the controversial ILO Group contract, Target 12 has learned.
McKee has yet to comment publicly on the news — confirmed by his office late Thursday — that the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI have joined an investigation initially launched last year by R.I. Attorney General Pete Neronha.
Target 12 has learned federal investigators began partnering with state authorities on the ILO probe within the last two months.
Investigators are examining whether any laws were broken when the McKee administration awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to ILO, a politically connected consulting firm, shortly after McKee took office last year. Target 12 first revealed the contract’s existence last September.
At the time, principal owners of the firm were working for a close confidant of the governor’s, Mike Magee. ILO’s managing partner, Julia Rafal-Baer, also played an integral role in designing the work that was later awarded to her firm following an unusual competitive bidding process.
People familiar with the matter confirmed FBI agents took part in interviews this week with multiple individuals who had knowledge of how the ILO deal was awarded, though they declined to offer details about what was asked. A spokesperson for McKee said no one from the governor’s office had been questioned as of Friday.
Spokespersons for the FBI, U.S. attorney and the attorney general have all declined to comment. A lawyer for ILO, former Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Robert Corrente, also declined to comment.
McKee has repeatedly defended the ILO contract — which ended in December, six months into a one-year agreement, after the company billed $1.8 million — and has sharply criticized news coverage examining the deal and its origins.
Since news broke Thursday about the FBI investigation, however, reporters have been unable to ask McKee questions about it.
On Thursday, a 12 News reporter waited for the governor outside of his campaign fundraiser at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, but McKee left through a side door after a security detail repeatedly moved his official car. On Friday, multiple reporters waited for McKee’s expected afternoon arrival at the State House, but were eventually told by aides he would not be coming.
The FBI’s involvement in the ILO probe drew sharp criticism from McKee’s political rivals, including Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who is challenging him for the Democratic nomination for governor.
“I was dismayed,” Gorbea said Friday during an interview on 12 News at 4. “I had flashbacks to other moments when the FBI has been at our State House, and this is not the Rhode Island we need right now.”
“We need to move forward,” Gorbea added. “I’m really thrilled to offer Rhode Islanders an alternative.”
Former Secretary of State Matt Brown, a progressive Democrat also challenging McKee, said he hoped the FBI will get to the bottom of what happened.
“Last year, as Rhode Islanders struggled to afford their basic needs like housing and health care, Governor McKee awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to a consulting firm tied to one of his top campaign donors,” Brown said in a statement.
A third Democratic candidate, Helena Foulkes, said: “For many Rhode Islanders, this story feels all too familiar — yet another career politician finds himself in the shadow of an FBI investigation. Once again, Dan McKee has shown that he cares more about enriching his well-connected friends than serving the people of our state. How can Rhode Islanders possibly trust him now?”
R.I. Republican Party Chair Sue Cienki called McKee “simply another corrupt entrenched politician that is more interested in lining the pockets of his close associates than helping struggling Rhode Islanders.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook
Kim Kalunian and Brittany Schaefer contributed to this report.