Hearings into 38 Studios lobbying scheduled for next week

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Secretary of State Ralph Mollis has sent letters to key players involved in the 38 Studios deal telling them to retroactively register as lobbyists and appear at a July 1 hearing to look into possible lobbying violations.

Mollis sent letters to Providence attorney Michael Corso – who had several lucrative contracts with the failed video game company – as well as former R.I. Economic Development Corporation executive director Keith Stokes, former 38 Studios board member Thomas Zaccagnino and 38 Studios founder Curt Schilling.

“Our office has been diligently investigating who, if anyone, lobbied lawmakers regarding 38 Studios,” Mollis said in a statement. “It is our goal to uncover any lobbying violations, which may have occurred without our knowledge, which is why our office has sent letters of inquiry to all parties who we feel may have been involved in lobbying activity, and may be in violation of lobbying laws.”

Mollis launched the probe in the wake of a Target 12 investigation that revealed no one from 38 Studios or hired by the company registered to lobby Rhode Island government when the controversial deal was being put together in 2010.

Mollis said his office has appointed attorney Louis DeSimone as a hearing officer.

In a letter sent to Corso from last month, officials from the secretary of state’s office set a deadline of May 24 for him to retroactively register as a lobbyist for his work with 38 Studios.

“It would appear that on numerous occasions, including on March 16, 2010 you met with certain individuals, including duly elected members of the General Assembly, to discuss the passage or amendment of certain pending legislation,” the letter states. “You also met with certain representatives of a public corporation for the purposes of influencing policy–making decisions or policy-making actions of the public corporation.”

In response, lawyers for Corso denied that Mollis’s office has the authority to force him to file retroactively and demanded more evidence that Corso was in violation of the state’s lobby laws.

“Since the Secretary is apparently threatening Mr. Corso with legal consequences for failing to register, we assume that someone within the Office knows, or should now, whether or not Mr. Corso was required to register,” attorneys Anthony Traini and Michael Lepizzera said in the letter.

“If the Secretary has any such evidence supporting the conclusion that Mr. Corso should have registered – other than what ‘appears’ to be the case from ‘various media sources’ – you should let us know what it is,” they continued.

Weeks later, Mollis’s office sent Corso a letter asking him to appear at a July 1 hearing to provide a defense for four violations of legislative lobbying and two for executive branch lobbying.

Anyone found to have violated the rules can be fined $2,000 for legislative lobbying and $1,000 for executive-branch lobbying.

Schilling’s lawyers said the former baseball star is exempt from the lobbying laws because he was the primary shareholder of 38 Studios.

Lawyers for Zaccagnino denied that the former board member engaged in any lobbying activity as defined by law.

The July 1 hearing is open to the public, Mollis spokesperson Raina Smith told WPRI.com.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @white_tim

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