Lawsuit: State rep. accused of threatening man’s business

Michael Salvatore (left) and Rep. Thomas Palangio (right).

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The owner of a Providence tow-truck company claims a state lawmaker threatened to have his business removed from a coveted spot on the state tow list after the two men found themselves in a financial dispute.

In court documents reviewed by Target 12, Michael Salvatore, the owner of State Auto Sales on Valley Street, claims Rep. Thomas Palangio, D-Providence, refused to repay more than $170,000 owed to Salvatore as part of a 2005 real estate deal and then threatened to have him taken off the list of authorized towing companies.

Salvatore first filed the complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court in January 2014, claiming Palangio told him, “I don’t have to pay up with you anymore. I’m a [expletive deleted] state rep. now. If you continue to bother me, I’ll get a restraining order and have you thrown off the [expletive deleted] state tow list.”

The legal dispute has moved slowly over the last two years, but the two sides are scheduled to appear in court again next week. Palangio is represented by House Majority Leader John DeSimone, a lawyer and fellow Providence Democrat.

“It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Palangio told Target 12. “I would never utter those words in a million years. I am not a thug. That defies what I stand for.”

According to the lawsuit, Salvatore paid Palangio $100,000 to purchase a car lot on Weeden Street in Pawtucket in 2005. Salvatore claims he spent another $70,000 on inspections and other services with the expectation they would result in the acquisition of the car lot, but he never received the legal title from Palangio.

The suit states that Salvatore and his father repeatedly attempted to obtain the title or seek reimbursement from Palangio, but the representative “refused to comply.” Salvatore goes on to claim that Palangio “abused his public office” by threatening retaliatory action against Salvatore’s towing business.

State Auto Sales is among 46 vendors with a position on the state towing list, which is overseen by the Rhode Island State Police. A spot on the tow list can be lucrative because only those companies have the ability to provide services on state roads and highways. In 2015, Salvatore’s company was called 236 times, according to records provided by the State Police.

Salvatore, whose brother is Providence City Councilman David Salvatore, declined to comment for Target 12.

Palangio was first elected to represent House District 8 in 1992, replacing Armand Batastini. He served in the House until 2002, when he backed out of a race for the newly redistricted House District 5. He later worked as then-Providence Mayor David Cicilline’s director of government affairs.

He returned to the House in 2013 after easily defeating Republican Rufus Bailey to win the District 3 seat, and was unopposed for re-election in 2014. Moira Jayne Walsh has already announced she plans to challenge Palangio in the Democratic primary later this year.

Earlier this month, Palangio withdrew his name from legislation he was co-sponsoring that would have put a statute of limitation on the collection of state income taxes after Target 12 learned he owes the state more than $127,000 in back taxes. Palangio said he didn’t read the bill “as carefully as I should have.”

Palangio told Target 12 he believes he could be deposed in Salvatore’s lawsuit as early as next month.

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Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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