State investigators have begun interviewing lawmakers on 38 Studios

38 studios state house combo.jpg

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he was interviewed by a state police detective within the last several weeks as part of an investigation into the controversial 38 Studios deal, saying he was asked about “certain individuals.”

At the outset of the interview – which Mattiello said was conducted by phone – Mattiello was told he is not a target of the investigation.

“I gave them background relative to my tenure in the general assembly, what committees I’ve served on,” Mattiello said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “I gave them background on … what I knew relative to 38 Studios which was more or less after acquired information.”

Mattiello was majority leader under former House Speaker Gordon Fox when the General Assembly voted for a loan guaranty program that led to a $75 million taxpayer-backed loan going to Curt Schilling’s video game company. Mattiello has said he didn’t know 38 Studios would receive so much of the money.

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Asked if he knew the direction of the state police investigation based on the line of questioning, Mattiello said the detective had questions about specific people.

“There is an ongoing investigation so I’m certainly not going to mention [the names] on a news program,” Mattiello said. “They asked me about certain individuals so I have some idea of where they’re looking.”

Mattiello added he is aware of other legislators that have also been contacted by investigators, but declined to say who.

Last month Mattiello sent an email to state representatives informing them detectives were seeking interviews with state lawmakers who voted on the 2010 bill that created the 38 Studios loan program.

He said he R.I. State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell called him directly, asking for the contact information of legislators.

At the time, O’Donnell described the investigation into 38 Studios by the state police and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office as “active and ongoing.”

He said investigators want “to ensure that anyone with information, who has not been previously contacted, has the opportunity to present it.” He added: “No member of the legislature is suspected of wrongdoing simply because of their vote.”

The legislation, H 8158, was sponsored by then-House Finance Committee Chairman Steven Costantino, D-Providence; Rep. Helio Melo, D-East Providence, who succeeded Costantino as chairman the next year; and former Rep. Jon Brien, D-Woonsocket. The legislation created a new $125-million loan-guarantee program at the R.I. Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

The bill was lawmakers’ second attempt to create the new loan program in the spring of 2010. The same proposal had been included in a supplemental budget passed by the House in April, but that measure died in the Senate, forcing Costantino and his colleagues to introduce the standalone bill on May 19.

The loan-guarantee bill passed the House on May 25, less than a week after it was introduced, on a 66-1 vote. Former Rep. Robert Watson, R-East Greenwich, cast the only vote against it. The Senate passed the bill on June 11, and then-Gov. Don Carcieri signed it the same day.

Less than two months after the legislation’s enactment, the EDC board used $75 million from the $125 million program to entice 38 Studios from Massachusetts to Providence.

Most rank-and-file lawmakers have since said they had no idea when they voted for the program that so much of the money would go to Schilling’s company, though many allege then-Speaker Fox knew what was happening.

A law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation told the request for interviews with lawmakers is not related to the state and federal probe swirling around former House Speaker Gordon Fox that led to raids on his home and office in March, but rather a separate and ongoing state-level probe into 38 Studios.

Tim White ( ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @white_tim reporter Ted Nesi contributed to this report

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