WARWICK, R.I. – So it begins.
The highly anticipated trial of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s former political adviser Jeffrey Britt kicked off Monday, with proceedings slated to last a week and potentially feature some of the state’s most well-known political figures, including the speaker himself.
The case revolves around a mailer that was purportedly sent by Shawna Lawton, an unsuccessful candidate in the 2016 Republican primary for Mattiello’s seat, in which she endorsed the speaker over GOP rival Steve Frias for the November election that fall.
It later emerged that Britt had orchestrated the mailer and helped secure funding for it in order to help Mattiello, in violation of campaign finance rules. Britt is facing one felony count of money laundering and one misdemeanor charge of making a prohibited campaign contribution.
But Britt through his attorney Robert Corrente, former Rhode Island U.S. attorney, has repeatedly argued the state’s case is factually incorrect. Corrente on Friday also filed a motion to dismiss — a common tactic on the eve of a trial — arguing the facts of the case do not warrant a felony money laundering charge, but rather a misdemeanor campaign finance violation.
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The difference in the two charges is profound: a guilty conviction on the misdemeanor charge would mean – at most – a fine of $1,000. A conviction on the felony money laundering charge comes with up to 20 years in prison and the possibility of a $500,000 fine.
“This court should not allow this outrageous exercise in prosecutorial overreach,” Corrente, Britt’s attorney, wrote in the filing. He argued the money laundering charge requires that the funds that are being hidden must be used to pay for criminal behavior that is a felony.
In addition to the speaker, who has been called to appear on Thursday, the trial is slated to feature Mattiello’s cheif of staff Leo Skenyon, along with Britt’s former campaign colleague Matt Jerzyk. The three men were subpoenaed by Corrente to appear.
Ted Nesi contributed to this story.