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RIGOP urges Ethics Commission to investigate alleged threat against Twin River exec

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The state Republican Party is urging the R.I. Ethics Commission to investigate, “and if necessary subpoena,” Raimondo administration officials to determine if the governor’s chief of staff threatened a Twin River executive during the ongoing fight over a lucrative gaming contract with the state.

The Ethics Commission already voted in August to open a formal investigation into whether Raimondo violated the state ethics code by negotiating a proposed 20-year extension of gaming giant IGT’s state contact to run lottery and casino games.

That complaint, which was also filed by the GOP, pointed to the governor’s relationship with Don Sweitzer, IGT’s former chairman and current lobbyist, who was tapped by the governor to be treasurer of the Democratic Governors Association. Raimondo is the current chairperson of the DGA.

Last week, Twin River executive Marc Crisafulli sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee claiming Raimondo’s chief of staff Brett Smiley threatened regulatory retaliation against his company if the casino went forward with its opposition to the administration’s IGT contract extension.

In a letter to the Ethics Commission on Tuesday, Brandon Bell, the former GOP chairman and the party’s legal counsel, asked the commission to expand its probe to examine Crisafulli’s claim.

“Raimondo’s Chief of Staff Brett Smiley, with the support or acquiescence of Raimondo, threatened Twin River and then used the executive branch of state government to retaliate against Twin River for opposing legislation which financially benefits IGT, and its lobbyist and probably shareholder, Sweitzer, Raimondo’s business associate,” Bell wrote.

As evidence of retaliation, Bell pointed to a $180,000 penalty Twin River had to pay in October after the state took issue with the casino’s debt ratio.

Bell said the penalty came months after the June 27 phone call where Crisafulli alleged Smiley warned him there would be “consequences if we opposed the deal.”

Twin River has opposed legislation that would extend IGT’s contract with the state, arguing it should be put out to bid. Raimondo has testified on behalf of the bill, saying the state risks losing more than 1,000 jobs if IGT doesn’t get the extension.

Both Smiley and Raimondo have denied a threat was made. Smiley has said he “gave [Crisafulli] a courtesy call to let him know that the General Assembly was moving forward” with legislation that would extend IGT’s contract with the state.

He said Crisafulli “was not happy with that news and it was a tense call.”  

Jonathan Berkon, a prominent Democratic attorney from Washington hired by Raimondo, said in an email, “This is just another unfounded claim tacked on to an already baseless complaint from the GOP, and we remain confident that the Ethics Commission will dismiss it.”

Bell asked the Ethics Commission to broaden its current investigation to include the latest allegation, adding, “we assume that Mr. Crisafulli and Twin River would fully cooperate with the Ethics Commission in its review of its allegation and provide corroborating evidence.”

“Assuming the evidence provided by Twin River is credible, the Ethics Commission should require, and if necessary subpoena, Smiley and others in the Raimondo administration to testify and provide all documentation in relation to Twin River’s debt financing to determine if a threat was made,” Bell wrote.

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

Ted Nesi and Eli Sherman contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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