PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — State police have interviewed a veteran Rhode Island Convention Center board member regarding whether House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello threatened retaliation over a personnel investigation at the facility involving the speaker’s friend, Target 12 has learned.
Paul MacDonald — a longtime union leader who has been on the Convention Center Authority board since 1991 — was among those with knowledge of the events interviewed by state police investigators this week, multiple sources tell Target 12. Convention Center Authority executive director James McCarvill was also interviewed.
Sources say Mattiello confronted MacDonald last month about an ongoing investigation into James Demers, the Convention Center’s director of security and an old friend of Mattiello’s. As Target 12 first reported two weeks ago, Demers and a second Convention Center executive, Amanda Marzullo Wilmouth, have been under internal scrutiny since last year.
The sources said Mattiello expressed frustration about Demers’s situation, but was told the matter was in the hands of the outside company that runs the Convention Center, ASM Global. The conversation was described as tense.
After the speaker spoke with MacDonald, the Mattiello-controlled Joint Committee on Legislative Services (JCLS) ordered an unusual audit of the Convention Center in a letter dated Dec. 23. But Mattiello has strongly denied that he demanded the audit as retaliation over Demers.
The state police declined to comment. The Convention Center Authority’s leaders sent a letter to the agency on Friday requesting a formal investigation into why Mattiello wanted the audit. Investigators were at the State House on Monday and Tuesday.
MacDonald, Demers, Marzullo and McCarvill could not immediately be reached for comment.
Asked Wednesday about when Mattiello spoke to MacDonald about Demers and what message he relayed, Mattiello spokesperson Larry Berman sent Target 12 a one-sentence statement: “Speaker Mattiello meets with Paul MacDonald and many others on a regular basis on a wide variety of topics.”
Berman also confirmed two top Mattiello lieutenants — Leo Skenyon, the speaker’s chief of staff, and Frank Montanaro Jr., executive director of JCLS — spoke with state police investigators at the State House on Tuesday when they visited to inspect the JCLS offices, which last week began undergoing an emergency renovation attributed to a mold problem.
“Frank Montanaro and Leo Skenyon had a conversation yesterday with two state police detectives in the busy basement hallway and they showed them the JCLS office, which has been vacated,” Berman said in an email. “No other topics were discussed.”
That conversation came the day after troopers made a late-night visit to the State House on a tip that documents were being improperly disposed. Target 12 watched an investigator looking into a large green dumpster outside the State House. (House leaders have said records were relocated, but none were destroyed.)
Mattiello himself offered slightly more detail about his conversations regarding Demers during an interview on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers earlier this month.
“I inquired of one person and I was told that it was basically a personnel matter and I had no other involvement with that,” Mattiello said. He declined to identify MacDonald as the person he spoke with, calling it “a private conversation.”
“I just simply inquired what was going on — I was told it was a personnel matter and I’ve had no other involvement,” Mattiello said, adding, “I ran into someone in the hallway — ‘So, by the way, what’s going on?’ Nothing particularly unusual.”
As fallout continued from the Convention Center scandal, Mattiello was seen Wednesday having lunch with Gov. Gina Raimondo at the Providence restaurant Cafe Nuovo along with their chiefs of staff. It’s unclear what the two were discussing.
Mattiello canceled the audit last Thursday after House Minority Leader Blake Filippi filed a lawsuit, alleging he and Montanaro had usurped the committee’s powers in ordering the performance audit because state law requires a majority of JCLS members to make such request.
Mattiello has continued to insist the Convention Center should be subject to a performance audit, beyond the ones periodically conducted by the Department of Administration’s Office of Internal Audit.
Five longtime Mattiello critics in the House Democratic caucus — state Reps. Teresa Tanzi, Kathleen Fogarty, Moira Walsh, John Lombardi and Ray Hull — spoke out Tuesday, describing the speaker as “scandal-plagued.”
“When is enough, enough?” Fogarty asked. “It is probably when the Rhode Island State Police are searching State House dumpsters in the dead of night. It seems like every week there is a new inquiry or investigation into unethical or illegal behavior in the House.”
The lawmakers urged Mattiello to call a caucus meeting to discuss the situation, but Berman said there are “no plans” to do so.
“Speaker Mattiello has the support of the vast majority of the members of the Democratic Caucus,” he said. “These five members have not been supportive of the speaker, so this statement from them is no surprise.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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