PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Facing a mounting public outcry over millions in taxpayer dollars directed to a Cranston chiropractor, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Thursday he’s decided to yank funding for the treatment.
House Democratic leaders have steered nearly $2 million over the past 15 years toward the chiropractor – Victor Pedro – and had earmarked another $1 million in the proposed budget for fiscal 2019-20.
During an interview on WPRO’s Tara Granahan Show, the Democrat said he was pulling the money because it had become “very controversial,” even though he was not convinced doing so was the right move.
“This treatment saves money,” the speaker insisted, adding, “It’s not costing any money and I shouldn’t pull it.”
Mattiello, a lawyer, said he had had “a few cases” where personal-injury clients went to Pedro for chiropractic treatment. He also said Pedro had treated the late Frank Montanaro Sr., a powerful labor leader who was also the father of former state Rep. Frank Montanaro Jr., a Pedro supporter who is also one of Mattiello’s political advisers.
The now-nixed funding would have gone toward paying for Pedro’s treatment – dubbed Cortical Integrative Therapy, or CIT – which is an unsanctioned neurotherapy that both state and federal health officials have rejected in recent years.
Both Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo and former Republican Gov. Don Carcieri tried cutting funding for CIT multiple times over the last decade and a half, but House leadership has replaced the funding each time.
Mattiello, who originally defended this year’s decision to fund the treatment after Raimondo proposed cutting it, has changed his mind in the wake of multiple reports about CIT.
He said the funding would become too much of a distraction on the House floor when lawmakers iron out the final version of the state budget Friday.
“It’s politically controversial,” he said.
Video Now: Mattiello addresses chiropractor controversy
While serving as House majority leader, Mattiello said he sent his former chief legal counsel, Richard Raspallo, to vet Pedro’s practice.
Raspallo, now a Rhode Island Superior Court magistrate, told the speaker at the time the practice was “legitimate,” according to Mattiello.
On a personal level, Mattiello said he had two clients of his legal practice that were also treated by Pedro several years ago.
Larry Berman, Mattiello’s spokesman, later clarified that the two people were clients from more than 20 years ago and neither Mattiello nor Pedro referred the clients to one another.
“Speaker Mattiello has not had a client who has received treatment from Dr. Pedro since those two instances well over 20 years ago,” Berman wrote in an email.
“I don’t think I even met him at the time, but I did have that contact with his office,” Mattiello said during the interview.
When asked about Pedro’s connection with Montanaro Jr., Mattiello was adamant that the relationship had nothing to do with the approval of past state funding, and he downplayed Montanaro’s role at the State House.
“He does not make any decisions on our team,” Mattiello said. “He does administrative work in the building.”
Montanaro was an early champion of Pedro’s, sponsoring a $150,000 Community Service Grant for the chiropractor in the fiscal 2004-05 state budget.
Mattiello also said the administration was supportive of CIT, pointing to an application made by state officials to the federal government to fund the program.
During the 2013 legislative session, however, the state budget was amended by House leadership mandating that the state Medicaid agency “seek and create a new service entitled Cortical Integrative Therapy,” according to budget documents.
State Rep. Moira Walsh, a Providence Democrat and outspoken Mattiello critic, celebrated his reversal in a tweet:
Ted Nesi (email@example.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