McKee: Mollis should step back from 38 Studios lobby probe

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee is demanding that his primary opponent in the race for lieutenant governor – Secretary of State Ralph Mollis – step down from an investigation into possible lobbying violations in the 38 Studios deal.

McKee hand-delivered a letter Wednesday afternoon to Mollis’s second-floor State House office making the request. A secretary took the paper from the mayor.

In the letter, McKee asked Mollis to “please do what is right for Rhode Island” and halt his investigation.

“Allow the State to retain a truly independent counsel … an objective professional who is not hired by your office and who is not a State House insider,” he said in the letter.

McKee said there are questions swirling around Mollis because he failed to investigate possible lobbying by someone representing 38 Studios two years ago, when it was first reported in the media.

“What did the secretary of state know and when did he know it and what was done about it?” McKee said to reporters moments after handing off the letter. “I think a full outside investigation on the issue would bring to light the sequence of events that led up to his position that there was no need to have registered a lobbyist.”

McKee also took issue with the selection of Louis DeSimone as the hearing officer for the examination of the lobbying violation. DeSimone is House Deputy Majority Leader John DeSimone’s cousin, and McKee said that face is “troubling just from public perception alone.”

“There are several people who could conduct these hearings and do it well,” McKee said.

McKee proposed a broader investigation into 38 Studios that would also look at why the secretary of state’s office took so long to launch the lobbying probe. McKee suggested an independent investigator could go through Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office.

In response, Mollis defended the lobbying hearings – which he launched in the wake of a Target 12 Investigation into 38 Studios in May – and said his office is “definitely doing right by the state.”

Behind Closed Doors: Click to read how a Target 12 Investigation led to
Behind Closed Doors: Click to read how a Target 12 Investigation led to a new probe into the 38 Studios deal.

“This is an accusation from somebody whose campaign is flailing,” Mollis said. “He’s trying to revive it.”
Mollis also took a shot at the McKee campaign’s decision to hire former Lincoln Chafee spokesman Michael Trainor, pointing out that Trainor defaulted on a 2007 R.I. Economic Development Corporation loan when his company went bankrupt.

“Dan McKee is the last person who should be commenting on 38 Studios or worrying about being a political insider,” Mollis said. “I have to question his sincerity just based on … the individuals he’s surrounding himself with.”

Watching this spat from the sidelines is Democratic State Representative Frank Ferri, D-Warwick, who has also entered the race for Lieutenant Governor.

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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