Raimondo backs off promise to order 38 Studios probe

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – In an about-face, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Friday she likely will not order an independent investigation into the controversial 38 Studios deal despite pledging to do so during a campaign debate last year.

Raimondo said an ongoing state police investigation, House Oversight Committee hearings that start next week, and a long-running civil suit against the architects of the deal should be enough to uncover any wrongdoing.

“I think the combination of the three things will get to the bottom of it and get our money back,” Raimondo said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

The statement is a shift from what Raimondo said during a gubernatorial primary debate on WPRI 12 in June 2014, when she unequivocally pledged to order an independent investigation into 38 Studios along the lines of what then-Gov. Bruce Sundlun did after the 1990s RISDIC credit-union crisis.

Asked Friday whether she is flip-flopping on the issue, Raimondo said: “It could be.”

“But look, I’m the governor — I have to do what’s right,” she added.

Raimondo suggested an additional independent probe of 38 Studios could be too costly to be worthwhile.

“When we did the RISDIC investigation it [cost] $6 million of taxpayer money,” she said. “I am not at this point going to spend any more taxpayer money to do yet another investigation when we have a huge civil litigation that I’m managing, the state police investigation and oversight hearings with subpoena power.”

Larry Berman, a spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, said the House Oversight Committee would only issue subpoenas if they feel people aren’t being responsive.

The panel is “going to issue letters of invitation to come before the committee,” Berman said. “The speaker has said if they do not respond to them he will strongly consider issuing subpoenas.”

Despite her misgivings, Raimondo did leave the door open to an eventual independent 38 Studios investigation ordered by her office, saying she will consider one if she isn’t satisfied with the outcomes of the various other probes.

“If at the end of that there is a need for another investigation I’ll do it, I’ll launch it,” Raimondo said. “[But] based on everything I know right now I don’t think that’s a good use of taxpayer money.”

Raimondo’s new position on an independent 38 Studios investigation is likely to disappoint advocacy groups who have repeatedly urged her to order such a probe. Earlier this week, five of them renewed their “challenge” to the governor to follow through on her pledge in last year’s WPRI 12 debate.

“Clearly, the pressure our coalition has put on legislative leaders has had an impact in the General Assembly,” Ken Block, the former gubernatorial candidate who now leads Watchdog RI, said in a statement Thursday. “Now it is time for the governor to do her part to fulfill her campaign obligation.”

“She needs to recognize that the people of Rhode Island are owed this independent investigation,” he said.

Raimondo said she is keeping tabs on the state police’s criminal investigation into 38 Studios — which has been going on for more than three years — and has discussed it with Col. Steven O’Donnell, whom she reappointed last fall.

“I’ve asked the colonel to be thorough but quick — wrap it up as quickly as we can,” Raimondo said. “I think the combination of [the] state police investigation and the oversight hearings is enough to uncover wrongdoing.”

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

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