Rhode Island State Representative Peter Palumbo (D, Cranston) has been under the magnifying glass after WJAR’s I-Team revealed potential bid rigging behind a state contract for beach concession stands. Apart from any illegality, the fact that the representative bid on a government contract appears to conflict with the state’s Code of Ethics, according to Common Cause RI.
The Providence Journal has followed that thread to the discovery that Palumbo was a vice president of T. J. and Company Inc., which had actually received such contracts in the past. He’s not alone.
A review of vendor payments data on RIOpenGov.org, a project of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, shows that more than one in six legislators or their employers have received payments from state agencies, beyond their pay and reimbursements for activities related to their official duties.
Owners and VPs
Other than Palumbo, six sitting legislators are owners, presidents, or vice presidents of companies that have received payments from state agencies within the past five years.
Senator William Walaska (D, Warwick) is the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of WAL Inc. According to RIOpenGov, his company has received $12,961 in the last half decade, most of it in fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Based on the listed accounts, it appears that much of the money has been related to equipment purchases by the Departments of Corrections and Administration.
Representative Joseph Trillo (R, Warwick) is the president of AAA Custom Alarms Services. The OpenGov Web site lists a total of $2,027 for that company, in roughly equal payments over four years. However, because those payments were from the legislature, for which OpenGov does not have 2014 data, yet, the total may be low.
At the vice presidential level, Senator Dennis Algiere (R, Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly) is a senior VP, Chief Compliance Officer, and Director of Community Affairs for the Washington Trust Company. In the past five years, Washington Trust has received $45,163 in grants. The bulk of the money came in 2014, from the operations budget of the Department of Transportation. However, the Governor’s Workforce Board awarded Washington Trust $16,082 in grants in 2011.
Venda Ravioli is another annual recipient of money from the General Assembly (meaning that these numbers don’t reflect any payments from the past year). From 2010 to 2013, Venda received $12,286, which increased steadily from $885 in 2010 to $4,865 in 2013. Representative Gregory Costantino (D, Johnston, Lincoln, Smithfield) serves as VP of operations for the family business, and he was elected to office in November 2012 (which would have been in the midst of fiscal year 2013). His brother, Steven, left the General Assembly in the middle of fiscal year 2012 and is involved with Venda, as well.
Boucher Real Estate has a less clear legislative link. In the past five years, the state has paid Boucher Properties LLC $185,331 in “outside rent” for the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. Boucher Properties shares an address and management with Boucher Real Estate, where Senator Marc Cote (D, North Smithfield, Woonsocket) handles commercial real estate. In fact, he’s listed as a vice president of Boucher & Company Commercial, Inc., with his LinkedIn page calling him an owner.
Among the many legislators who are lawyers, several come up in searches of RIOpenGov. The Current is still awaiting answers from the relevant departments in some cases, but based on explanations from the Department of Labor and Training, it appears that one way in which legislator-lawyers receive state money beyond their salaries with the General Assembly is to represent clients who are appealing rulings from state agencies.
For instance, if a person is initially denied unemployment insurance benefits, he or she can appeal, first to the department’s board of appeals and then to district court. If the appeal is successful, the person’s lawyer receives 10% at the board of appeals level or $175 per hour plus costs at the district court level, both paid directly from the department.
According to DLT spokesman, Michael Healey, the Department of Labor and Training paid out $673,000 in legal fees for unemployment insurance and temporary disability insurance appeals in fiscal year 2014. That means the three legislators who received such payments claimed just under 7% of the total. However, a detailed analysis of the success rates for legislators versus other lawyers would require sifting through more than 5,000 documents, because the department does not track individual lawyers.
The legislators whose legal firms appear in RIOpenGov searches include:
- Senator William Conley (D, East Providence, Pawtucket), $62,517 over five years, with $47,030 of that paid since he was sworn into office in January 2013. These payments were through the Department of Administration and may not have followed the process described above.
- Senator Frank Lombardi (D, Cranston), $87,927 over five years, with $42,266 of that paid since he was sworn into office in January 2013. Sen. Lombardi’s payments represent a mix of payments from the Departments of Administration and Labor and Training, but neither department has records of contracts, per se. (It should be noted, however, that the spending account from which most payments were made is labeled “Legal: Contracts.”)
- Senator Paul Jabour (D, Providence), $37,529 over five years. Jabour also has a mix of payments from Administration and Labor and Training.
- Senator Donna Nesselbush (D, North Providence, Pawtucket), $5,077 in FY12. The latest information from the Department of Human Services is that these payments were related to work performed by an employee of Marasca & Nesselbush.
- Representative John DeSimone (D, Providence), $3,679 in FY14 from the Department of Labor and Training.
- Senator Michael McCaffrey (D, Warwick), of McCaffrey & McCaffrey, $300 in FY10, in the “Legal services: expert witness” account of the state Superior Court. (Note that FY14 data from the judiciary has also not been received, yet.)
Of course, not every legislator works as a lawyer or as a principal officer of a company. The employers of the following legislators also received money from the state in the last five years — sometimes a great deal of it:
- Representative Raymond Gallison (D, Bristol, Portsmouth), Assistant Director of Alternative Educational Programming, which received $446,250 in legislative grants over five years.
- Senator Louis DiPalma (D, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton), Technical Director of Raytheon, which received $161,452, mainly for IT services, over five years.
- Representative Jeremiah O’Grady, Real Estate Project Manager of Olneyville Housing Corp., which received $212,874 over five years, mainly for grants for health promotion.
- Representative Helio Melo (D, East Providence), Training Manager at Jan Companies, which received $40,540 in FY14, from the Department of Transportation.
- Representative Stephen Ucci (D, Cranston, Johnston), until recently general counsel at Raytheon. See above.
- Senator Paul Fogarty (D, Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield), Master Plumber of Delta Mechanical, which received $3,989,540 over five years for various construction and maintenance services.
- Senator Catherine Cool Rumsey (D, Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich), Team Lead at AIPSO, which received $16,146 in FY13 from the Governor’s Workforce Board.
- Senator Christopher Ottiano (R, Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton), Doctor at the Brain and Spine Neurological Institute, which received $124,052 over five years for from the Dept. of Administration’s Workers’ Compensation Fund.
- Senator Elizabeth Crowley (D, Central Falls, Pawtucket), Office Manager at Comprehensive Healthcare, which received $703 over five years from the Workers’ Compensation Fund.
- Representative David Bennett (D, Cranston, Warwick), Psychiatric Nurse at Butler Hospital, which received $160,843 over five years from various departments, mainly for emergency preparedness grants.