Vallee fined $8,000 for 'serious' ethics violation

Vallee fined $8,000 for 'serious' ethics violation

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Ethics Commission on Tuesday fined North Providence Controller Maria Vallee $8,000 for ethics violations related to improperly receiving $48,000 in illegal federal loans.

Vallee agreed to the fine and acknowledged that she violated state laws, according to Jason Gramitt, staff attorney for the commission.

The $8,000 fine represents what “most people would consider a serious penalty,” said Gramitt. The amount was decided on based on the “totality of the circumstances,” he said, including the willfulness of Vallee’s conduct and the size of the civil penalty paid in Vallee’s federal case.

Just as federal officials were trying to “effectuate justice on a grand scale,” said Gramitt, so was the Ethics Commission. The $8,000 figure was consistent with past cases of a similar nature, said Gramitt.

Vallee, North Providence’s former finance director, had already been fined $78,000 in damages for illegally obtaining the loans for herself and her husband back in 2008. The federal fine was handed down two weeks ago after Vallee reimbursed nearly $48,000 of Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant money she received in the form of loans from the town of North Providence which she was not qualified to receive, according to a civil complaint and a consent judgment filed with the U.S. District Court in Providence.

Vallee, 47, is now facing possible termination of her employment with the town. Mayor Charles Lombardi told The Breeze last week that he would decide on the controller’s fate after the ethics ruling.

The CDBG loan program is a Housing and Urban Development program administered by various municipalities across Rhode Island to provide low-interest loans to low-income and moderate-income families and the elderly to make necessary repairs to existing housing.

According to the earlier complaint, announced by U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha and Cary Rubenstein, special agent in charge of the Northeast Region of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General, between April and July 2008, Vallee applied for and received a total of $47,895 in HUD CDBG loans, even though she was aware that her and her husband's combined salaries of $125,000 exceeded maximum salary guidelines. The maximum aggregate family income for a family applying for a home repair loan from the CDBG program was $58,550.

Vallee removed herself from the finance director position in June of 2011, hours before the Rhode Island Ethics Commission found probable cause for numerous alleged ethical and statutory violations, subsequently taking the controller position.