PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee on Friday continued to defend a controversial state contract now under federal investigation, arguing the FBI and other law enforcement agencies won’t uncover any wrongdoing by him or his administration.
“I can tell you that there’s nothing that is going to come out that is going to reflect on me in a way, in these investigations, nor my administration,” McKee told reporters at the State House.
The McKee administration awarded the multimillion-dollar contract to education consulting firm ILO Group shortly after he took office in March 2021. The firm was founded two days after he was sworn in, and its managing partner, Julia Rafal-Baer, worked at the time for McKee’s close confidant and major campaign donor, Mike Magee.
Magee — who leads his own education consulting nonprofit, Chiefs for Change — served on McKee’s gubernatorial transition team, and he encouraged then-Lt. Gov. Dan McKee to hire Rafal-Baer as his education consultant, according to emails obtained by Target 12 through a public records request.
Magee also provided McKee with a rough draft of what he thought the consulting work should entail, saying Rafal-Baer helped him create the outline, and warned that “none of this is cheap.”
“How many millions?” McKee responded at the time.
ILO went on to win a state contract following a highly unusual bidding process. Proposals were vetted by a technical team that included North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, another close confidant of the governor’s. ILO won the lion’s share of the contract, despite initially bidding nearly 10 times more than WestEd, a second education consulting firm that has decades of experience working with Rhode Island educational leaders.
After Target 12 first reported about the unusual bidding process, R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha launched an investigation into whether any laws were broken. Last week, Target 12 confirmed Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha’s office, along with the FBI, had joined the criminal probe.
Spokespersons for those offices have declined to comment, but Target 12 has since learned state and FBI officials have interviewed multiple people with ties to state government about the ILO contract. A lawyer for ILO has declined to comment, and Magee has previously declined to comment due to the ongoing investigation.
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Despite the ongoing criminal probes, McKee has repeatedly pushed back on any criticism of the deal, and has also decried news coverage of the matter.
On Friday, he reiterated that the state was facing unusual challenges when he took office, saying “the decisions we made at the time were in best interests in the state of Rhode Island, and I standby each and every one of those decisions.”
“A historic pandemic, by the way, which I think people forget — at least some of the reporting that goes on forgets — where we were in March of last year,” he told reporters. “Lowest vaccinations, highest death rates, highest hospitalization rates, an economy wrapped around plexiglass, and an education system that was all virtual.”
While Rhode Island was vaccinating residents at a slower clip than neighboring states at the time, public schools were mostly operating in-person when McKee took office. Rhode Island students started attending school in-person in September 2020, roughly six months before McKee became governor.
Eli Sherman (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.
Tim White (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) 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
Anita Baffoni contributed to this report.