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Grand jury issues subpoenas amid Mattiello audit controversy

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A Rhode Island grand jury has subpoenaed several officials at the Rhode Island Convention Center amid an investigation into why House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello ordered an unauthorized audit of the agency, Target 12 has confirmed.

As Target 12 has reported, Mattiello ordered the audit soon after he confronted a Convention Center board member over a personnel investigation there involving the speaker’s friend James Demers, the Convention Center’s director of security. Mattiello — who later canceled the audit under pressure — has insisted the audit was not retaliation over Demers’ situation, but rather a response to information about the center’s finances that Demers gave him.

Multiple sources tell Target 12 the grand jury issued at least one subpoena to a member of Mattiello’s inner circle, Frank Montanaro Jr., and four more to Convention Center officials, including Paul MacDonald, Robert Lauro, Lawrence Lepore and Jim McCarvill, directing them to appear next week to testify.

MacDonald is the board member at the quasi-public Convention Center Authority who was confronted by Mattiello about Demers. Lauro is director of event services and operations, Lepore is the general manager and McCarvill is the authority’s executive director. McCarvill confirmed he received a subpoena but declined further comment.

Mattiello’s spokesperson, Larry Berman, said the speaker has not been called to testify. But he refused to confirm that Mattiello’s chief of staff, Leo Skenyon, had received a subpoena — even after Skenyon himself told a Providence Journal reporter that he had.

“Leo speaks for himself,” Berman said. He also said Target 12 has “good sources” and should use those to confirm the information.

Skenyon could not immediately be reached for comment.

The subpoenas mark the first public sign that R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha, whose office issues such orders, has gotten involved in the Convention Center investigation. Neronha spokesperson Kristy dosReis would neither confirm nor deny whether there is an active grand jury examining the situation, citing office policy.

Investigators from the Rhode Island State Police’s Financial Crimes Unit interviewed several people last week about how the audit order came about. Among them was Montanaro, who oversees the General Assembly’s roughly $46 million budget as head of the Joint Committee on Legislative Services.

State Police Col. James Manni declined to comment on the investigation.

Both Demers and the other Convention Center executive involved in the underlying personnel investigation — Amanda Marzullo Wilmouth — were removed from the Convention Center’s website over the weekend. Asked about their status Monday, a spokesperson for the company that runs the facility told Target 12, “Discussions with both parties are ongoing.”

This is not the first time in recent months that a grand jury has examined an issue related to the speaker and his team.

A grand jury indicted former Mattiello adviser Jeff Britt last fall for actions he allegedly took during the speaker’s 2016 re-election campaign. Mattiello chief of staff Leo Skenyon was interviewed by state police about the case shortly before the indictment.

Separately, a federal grand jury issued at least two subpoenas last year over state funding for Victor Pedro, the Cranston chiropractor who was steered millions in taxpayer dollars by Mattiello to pay for a treatment that federal Medicaid officials refused to cover. Mattiello removed the funding from the budget last June after a public outcry.

R.I. Republican Party Chair Sue Cienki seized on news of the grand jury, calling it “a major development in this latest Mattiello scandal.”

“It is a sign that there is credible evidence that criminal activity occurred in relation to Mattiello’s illegal audit,” she said. “A grand jury does not issue subpoenas based on rumor.”

Cienki challenged House Democrats — only a handful of whom have publicly criticized Mattiello over the Convention Center situation — about their response so far.

“When will House Democrats say enough is enough?” she said. “Will it be after the JCLS is raided? Will it be after Mattiello pleads the Fifth Amendment at the Jeff Britt trial? Will they wait until Mattiello is indicted? The longer House Democrats stand with Mattiello, the easier it will be for voters to see House Democrats as supporters of Mattiello’s corruption.”

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 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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