PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Investigators have subpoenaed The University Club as part of their ongoing probe into a controversial state contract that the McKee administration awarded to the education consulting firm ILO Group, Target 12 has learned.
John J. Brough Jr., the club’s president, told Target 12 the subpoena arrived within the last several weeks. “We will comply, and it’s our policy to comply for subpoenas we receive in connection with grand jury matters or any matter we’re asked about,” he said.
Brough declined to describe the specific material requested from the club by investigators.
Target 12 has separately confirmed that Michael Baer, the husband of ILO managing partner Julia Rafal-Baer, is a University Club member.
Gov. Dan McKee’s office awarded a lucrative contract to ILO, which was incorporated within days of his inauguration, shortly after his March 2021 swearing-in. The firm was founded by employees of Mike Magee, a longtime close confidante of the governor’s who served on his transition team.
Attorney General Peter Neronha launched an investigation into the deal last fall after Target 12 revealed the unusual bidding process that led up to the contract, and since then the probe has been joined by U.S. Attorney Zachary Cunha and the FBI.
Representatives of ILO did not immediately respond to a request for comment. While the one-year contract was initially valued at up to $5.2 million, in the end the firm was paid $1.8 million before ending the agreement after six months. The contract was funded with federal coronavirus relief money.
Matt Sheaff, a spokesperson for McKee, declined to say whether investigators have subpoenaed the governor’s office.
“While we aren’t commenting on the ongoing investigation — as we’ve said from the beginning the administration followed the state’s procurement rules in awarding this contract,” Sheaff said in a statement. “We remain confident that the investigation will find no wrongdoing on our administration’s part.”
The University Club is an exclusive organization on the East Side of Providence known for offering its members a private space to network, dine and play squash. The club played a memorable role in the 2002 trial of former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, who was accused of extorting a lifetime membership there after it had previously ignored his admission requests in the 1970s.
In an interview last month on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers, Cunha was circumspect when asked about the status of the ILO probe.
“I want to be careful about what I say about this,” Cunha said, describing it as “common” for prosecutors in his office to review such issues in collaboration with prosecutors in the attorney general’s office.
“Whether that review ultimately ripens into some kind of enforcement action — civil, criminal, or otherwise — depends on the outcome,” he added.
McKee is facing four Democratic challengers in the Sept. 13 gubernatorial primary. Cunha said U.S. Justice Department policy and the U.S. attorneys’ manual provide clear guidelines about how a politically sensitive investigation should be handled, though there are no hard-and-fast timelines.
“The way that we handle all of our investigations and how they’re publicly perceived, so they’re perceived to be fair to everybody concerned — that’s always on my mind,” he said.
Target 12’s reporting on the ILO contract also spurred state lawmakers to hold oversight hearings where they grilled administration officials about how the deal came together.
State Sen. Louis DiPalma and state Rep. Pat Serpa, who chair the oversight panels, responded by championing a bill to tighten some of the rules around the state’s procurement process for contracts. McKee signed the measure into law last week.
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