ARLENE VIOLET – Not much changes in investigations of politicians

ARLENE VIOLET – Not much changes in investigations of politicians

Readers know that a trial involving an incident during Speaker Nick Mattiello’s re-election campaign was rolled out in Superior Court earlier this month. The specific charge focused on Jeffrey Britt, a then-top operative in the campaign, who was charged with money-laundering (and another charge) through a one-time Republican rival’s campaign to pay for a flyer wherein she endorsed the speaker rather than her fellow Republican. The judge will ultimately review the transcripts and render an opinion in four to six weeks. But the verdict is already in which confirms that politicians, particularly powerful ones, have “investigators” pussy-footing around any real search for the truth. What is the key evidence of this proposition? The Board of Elections investigation as testified to by the board’s campaign finance director, Richard Thornton.

Mr. Thornton testified that then-Republican Chairman Brandon Bell asked the board to investigate how the campaign of Republican Shawna Lawton could send out a $2,150 flyer when she had reported less than $44 in her war chest. Thornton acknowledged that witnesses dodged subpoenas or were not responsive. The board never pushed for copies of her campaign bank account. The board never further examined the blanket denial statement that the speaker did not knowingly or willfully arrange for the Lawton mailer made in a written statement by his lawyer, Michael DiChiro, who later became a Traffic Tribunal magistrate, a plum political appointment.

Notwithstanding the fact that Ms. Lawton finally owned up to the fact that she received post-election “donations” from the spouse of another campaign worker for Mattiello, the Board of Elections never questioned the speaker. It never questioned his chief of staff. Unlike other cases, no sworn statements were taken from either man. The “investigation” ended with a whimper.

The Thornton testimony reminded me of the wimpy so-called investigation into 38 Studios. It is now known that the bastion of rectitude, the Rhode Island State Police, never adequately questioned the legislators who supported the deal. I wrote a column back then that legislators were not put under oath when they were asked about any information, kick-backs, etc. Most were not even questioned in person but rather by phone. One legislator told me she was asked during a phone call if she knew anything about the background of 38 Studios’ legislation “which could be helpful” albeit never defined. She answered “no” and the call was terminated after less than two minutes, much of which was an exchange of pleasantries. I further wrote that then-Attorney General Peter Kilmartin was fighting the release of the grand jury investigation because it would embarrass his office and the “staties.” It was a mock investigation, case closed.

As I write this the defense has not put on its case. By the time you read this, you will know if Messrs. Mattiello, Skenyon, and another Mattiello operative, lawyer Matt Jerzyk ,were called to the stand. Whether they answer any questions, plead the Fifth, or do more dance steps around the issue than Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, one thing is certain: There remain two systems of justice, one for the folks who read a column like this; the other for those in power who control the purse strings. The latter is really on trial and the only verdict is “guilty.”

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.