PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island State Police interviewed one of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s top lieutenants on Thursday as they continue investigating whether the speaker ordered an unauthorized audit as retaliation, Target 12 has learned.
The interview with Frank Montanaro Jr., executive director of the powerful Joint Committee on Legislative Services (JCLS), marks the first time state police have formally interviewed a close ally of Mattiello as part of the investigation. Detectives are examining whether the speaker ordered the Rhode Island Convention Center audited because he was angry over a personnel investigation there involving his friend James Demers, its director of security.
House spokesperson Larry Berman previously confirmed state police spoke to both Montanaro and Leo Skenyon, Mattiello’s chief of staff, on Tuesday at the State House while they inspected a sudden renovation of JCLS’s offices that began last week. Berman said no other topics were discussed at the time.
Asked Thursday about the Montanaro interview and whether any other members of the JCLS or House staff have also been interviewed, Berman said only, “You should ask the state police.”
State police declined to comment.
Montanaro is a longtime State House player who represented the same Cranston district that Mattiello now represents — House District 15 — from 1986 to 2004. As head of JCLS, Montanaro handles the Assembly’s administrative apparatus and manages its roughly $46 million budget. He became a subject of controversy in 2017 when Target 12 revealed Montanaro had received nearly $50,000 in free tuition from Rhode Island College while working at the State House.
As Target 12 first reported Wednesday, state police have already interviewed veteran Convention Center Authority board member Paul MacDonald regarding whether Mattiello threatened retaliation during a conversation with MacDonald about the personnel investigation involving Demers and another employee, Amanda Marzullo Wilmouth. Both employees have been placed on leave.
According to multiple sources, Mattiello confronted MacDonald last month about the investigation into Demers, who is a former state police detective commander. After the conversation with MacDonald, Mattiello ordered the audit under the auspices of the JCLS, which is run by Montanaro.
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.
But the speaker has repeatedly denied the claim that he ordered it in retaliation for Demers’ treatment, and 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.
An attorney for Demers could not be reached for comment.
Preston Halperin, who represents Wilmouth, told Target 12 his client is hopeful she can work out a separation agreement from Convention Center operator ASM Global within the next couple of weeks.
“Her focus right now is addressing her employment status — that has to be the priority,” he said.
Investigators’ interview with Montanaro came hours before Mattiello’s annual campaign fundraiser, being held Thursday evening at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick. The speaker’s event traditionally marks the beginning of the yearly General Assembly fundraising season, which happens in parallel with the legislative session.
Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office confirmed she isn’t attending Mattiello’s fundraiser this year, but Senate President Dominick Ruggerio was expected to go.
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