PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For Lindsey Scannapieco, the day started at 12:01 a.m. with a text message from Rhode Island state official David Patten requesting coffee, croissants, Diet Coke — and beer.
“Please have fresh coffee (with milk and sugar) and the best croissant in Philadelphia ready for me upon arrival,” Patten wrote to Scannapieco, managing partner at Scout Ltd., the company seeking over $50 million from the state to execute its plan for redeveloping the long-vacant Cranston Street Armory.
“Director Thorsen likes Diet Coke,” Patten continued, alluding to R.I. Department of Administration director Jim Thorsen, who would accompany him on the March 10 business trip.
“Have a cold six pack waiting on the table in your conference room,” he added. “You have three hours to convince us to give you $55M.”
The text message kicked off a bizarre daylong trip to Scout, the state contractor that landed a contract to redevelop the Armory under former Gov. Gina Raimondo and was trying to convince Gov. Dan McKee’s administration to fund the project. Patten, director of the R.I. Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, was responsible for vetting the plan along with Thorsen.
As Target 12 first revealed in April, two Scout officials — Scannapieco and her colleague Everett Abitbol — were so upset that they documented the two officials’ conduct in an email shared with state officials, alleging “bizarre, offensive” behavior that was “blatantly sexist, racist and unprofessional.”
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“We will not permit Patten or Thorsen to return to Bok ever again as we do not tolerate this type of behavior in our community,” Scout officials wrote in the email. “We do not want to work with people who support casual racism and sexism and are shocked at how this reflects on the State of Rhode Island and the lack of competence there.”
The McKee administration fought for months to keep the email secret, but lost the battle on Wednesday when R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha ruled in favor of Target 12 and The Providence Journal in an open-records complaint seeking the message.
McKee’s office released the email Thursday. It was forwarded two days after the trip to McKee’s chief of staff, Tony Afonso, by veteran political operative Jeff Britt, who’d been hired by Scout to lobby for their project at the State House.
“[T]his behavior is not like anything I have heard of,” Britt wrote in the email to Afonso.
Scout’s plan for the Armory is expected to cost $57 million and includes an indoor soccer complex, offices and a business incubator. McKee declined to request funding for the project in the budget and none was included in the revised budget bill passed last week by House lawmakers.
In a statement issued Thursday, Scout’s senior staff said: “We want to clarify that our reporting of behavior was intended to ensure accountability for their actions and uphold our commitment to our community at Bok as an inclusive and safe space for all. We sincerely hope that our reporting of our experiences did not contribute to any potential lack of funding or support from the governor or his team.”
Thorsen declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation into the Philadelphia trip.
An attorney for Patten, Michael Lynch, attributed his behavior to “a mental health event characterized by health professionals as an acute stress event that built up over time.” He said Patten has lost his sister, father-in-law and best friend during the three years before the trip.
“In reading the email he is embarrassed – humiliated – not just for himself and the impact on he and his family but for those who placed so much trust in him as DCAMM Director,” Lynch said. “But he is not going to run or hide from this.”
Lynch also said Patten “has never had a bad review or report” at work and always acted “in a professional manner” over a 30-year career. He indicated Patten has sought professional help and is “ready to return” to his job — which pays $174,490 a year — but is also “looking at” resigning.
“He knows this can be a significant distraction to the governor and other officials,” Lynch said.
‘Lindsey, where is your husband?’
According to Scout’s email, Patten and Thorsen spent March 10 visiting multiple organizations operating inside a massive Philadelphia facility that Scout has developed called Bok, which serves as a large-scale co-working space where entire companies, nonprofits and other organizations do business. Scout has cited Bok as a model for the Armory.
Scout officials said the demeaning behavior first revealed in Patten’s early-morning text only continued throughout the day. In addition to the text to Scannapieco, Patten reportedly asked why her husband was out of the country.
“Lindsey, where is your husband? Why is he in Australia?” Scannapieco reported Patten saying to her. “Good thing your [sic] married or I would move to Philadelphia.”
She also said he told her: “If I knew your husband wasn’t going to be here, I would have come last night.”
During a tour of Bok, the two men visited several businesses, including a medical practice and an Italian sneaker-and-sportswear company called Diadora, where executives at both companies reported experiencing inappropriate and even racist treatment.
At the medical practice, Jefferson Wyss Wellness Center, Scout officials said both men were disrespectful to patients, including homeless people who were seeking services. The facility serves “the refugee and immigrant community,” according to Scout.
After hearing the health clinic’s leader discuss his commitment to helping underprivileged individuals, Patten reportedly said, “When you go to the bars at night you must have to swat off the women.” (The doctor replied that he was “happily married.”)
Patten then asked the owner where he was from, suggesting the man had “some ethnicity in you.”
Informed the owner was Jewish, Patten responded, “Mazel tov,” and that he knew Jewish people in Brooklyn where he grew up, according to the email.
At Diodora, Patten was presented with a pair of sneakers. “Are these made in China?” Patten reportedly asked an employee. “I hope not, because I really hate China.”
After making the comment, Scout officials said Patten turned to a female Asian employee and said, “No offense, hun.”
Diadora’s CEO was “livid” about the conduct of Patten and Thorsen, the Scout officials reported, and “asked for their information to file a public complaint.” The executive noted he had a Chinese wife and two multiracial children.
‘You can call in a favor if you want $55M’
The two men then continued their tour with a stop at Irwin’s, a high-end Italian restaurant on the eighth floor, which the email reports was closed at the time. In a March 12 memo Patten wrote about the trip, he offered a glowing review of the experience, but first explained the restaurant looked like “it was vandalized just before our arrival.”
“Imagine my surprise when I learned that Bon Appetit magazine rated it one of the top ten restaurants in the United States!” Patten wrote. “The cuisine at Irwin’s did not disappoint. The word ‘understated’ comes to mind.”
Scout officials described a starkly different scene at Irwin’s.
According to their email, the restaurant was closed when Patten and Thorsen arrived, yet the two officials demanded it be opened – suggesting employees could come in early if Scout was serious about securing the McKee administration’s support for the Armory project.
“[W]ell you can call in a favor if you want $55M in funding,” Patten reportedly told Scout officials.
Throughout the tour, Scout officials said Patten would repeatedly ask each tenant for something to take home with him, including vegan cheese and hand-blown glass, which company officials said “made all very uncomfortable as he forced his requests on people.”
Each time it happened, Scout officials wrote, Patten would turn to Thorsen and ask, “I don’t have to declare this right?”
“It’s de minimis,” Thorsen replied, according to Scout. (“De minimis” is State House shorthand for a gift of low-enough value that it doesn’t trigger ethics rules.)
During the meal at Irwin’s, Scout officials said the men didn’t pay at the end of the meal.
An email shared with Target 12 shows Thorsen later emailed Everett Abitbol, Scout’s director of hospitality and development, on March 13 asking for an invoice for the lunch. It cost $250, according to state officials.
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, expressed outrage after reading the email, saying it “reveals disgusting racist and misogynistic behavior by Mr. Patten and the utter indifference of Mr. Thorsen who enabled it.”
“It also shows what appear to be several violations of the state’s code of ethics,” Marion continued. “Rhode Island officials cannot accept gifts of greater than $25 in value, they can’t use their official positions to financially benefit themselves, and in certain circumstances they have to report out-of-state travel and accommodations.”
He added: “By shaking down the potential vendor for a lavish meal, among other things, Mr. Patten crossed the line from boorish to possibly illegal behavior, and Mr. Thorsen enabled it.”
Criminal investigation could wrap ‘very soon’
Thorsen also complained to Scout officials about their decision to hire Britt, asking if they were aware Britt “took Director Thorsens [sic] job on a state committee, and doing so in a somewhat menacing way.”
While the email alleges Patten was the main antagonist during the trip, Scout’s staff also criticized Thorsen — one of the governor’s senior cabinet members — for not stepping in.
“Thorsen allowed this behavior to continue to happen, even after we pulled him aside to make note that this needed to stop,” Scout’s leaders wrote in the email. “We are not sure if this was intended try to force our hand to walk away from the project — but we are disgusted and shocked by these actions.”
They added: “Waiving $55 million in our faces as if this is what we are receiving and benefitting is insulting, misinformed and quite frankly a tact of exerting power and control over someone that is disgusting.”
Three days after the trip, Patten went out on medical leave. He retained that status until May 30, when he was placed on paid administrative leave.
Thorsen — who had already submitted his resignation before going to Philadelphia — came back from the business trip and immediately scheduled a meeting with the state’s human resources division, according to his calendar. He stepped down in April to return to a job at the U.S. Treasury Department.
McKee — who has previously refused to comment on the alleged behavior in Philadelphia — announced after the attorney general ordered the email be made public that he referred the allegations against Patten to the R.I. State Police in April.
State Police Col. Darnell Weaver separately confirmed the probe on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re looking to see if there is anything criminal in this case,” Weaver told Target 12. “We hope to have the investigation completed very soon.”
Yet McKee’s disclosure about the state police also yielded new evidence of the tensions between the governor and the attorney general.
Neronha’s spokesperson claimed on Wednesday that his office was “not aware of any RISP investigation,” nor the governor’s office mention it as it fought release of the email.
Neronha himself doubled down on that Thursday, tweeting: “I must say that it would be a highly unusual situation for the State Police to be conducting a criminal investigation involving two high ranking public officials for two months without contacting my office. In my 12 plus years as US Attorney & AG that has never happened. Ever.”
But the governor’s office said it had, in fact, told its counterparts in Neronha’s office.
“Our office notified the attorney general’s office of the referral to the State Police and the ongoing criminal investigation in a letter to Special Assistant Attorney General Roach on May 15,” McKee spokesperson Olivia DaRocha told Target 12.
The governor’s office provided a letter dated May 15 sent to Neronha’s public-records division, showing McKee deputy executive counsel Andrea Shea revealed in a footnote, “Mr. Patten’s conduct on the site visit as detailed in the e-mail was referred to the State Police.”
“Since the Office’s initial response to this APRA appeal, we have been made aware that the State Police is now conducting a criminal investigation,” Shea added in the footnote.
Neronha spokesperson Brian Hodge fired back, saying the attorney general’s office learns of criminal investigations from law enforcement, “not from filings to the Open Government Unit in response to APRA complaints.”
“The submission was not public and could only be used by the open government team for the purpose of evaluating the APRA complaint,” Hodge said in a statement. “We don’t consider that to be a notification to this Office.”
As for the governor’s own reaction to the alleged behavior by Patten and Thorsen, McKee spokesperson Matt Sheaff said midday Thursday he couldn’t offer a substantive comment.
“As there is still an ongoing Human Resources investigation and an ongoing State Police investigation into this matter, the office cannot comment further at this time,” Sheaff said.
Lawmakers also weighed in on the issue, including state Rep. David Morales, who tweeted “David Patten should resign.”
“He should NOT be receiving an annual salary of $175,000 made up of tax-payer dollars along with benefits,” tweeted the Providence Democrat.
State Sen. Sam Bell, also a Providence Democrat, issued a statement lauding Scout for reporting the behavior and condemning the allegations outlined in the email.
“Extortion from state contractors is wrong,” Bell said.
“No public official should extort items such as alcohol, vegan cheese, hand-blown glass, a pair of sneakers, and a private meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant that had to be opened specially for the occasion,” he said. “No state contractor should have to hear the words, ‘you can call in a favor if you want $55 million’ used to justify any of these requests. Nor is it appropriate to make the comments that were made about the Asian-American community.”
Marion, of Common Cause, pointed out the message wouldn’t have seen the light of day if news organizations hadn’t forced the issue.
“The release of this email also shows how incredibly important our public records law is, and why the balancing test is a critical tool to unearthing documents like this that are clearly in the public interest,” he said.
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.
This story has been updated and expanded.