PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – An ex-employee who worked at former House Finance Committee Chairman Raymond Gallison’s controversial nonprofit said Friday she’s shocked that the organization didn’t come under scrutiny years ago.
Patricia LaSalle, who was a program director at Alternative Educational Programming (AEP) from 2004 to 2009, told Target 12 that when she arrived there the nonprofit was “not a well-functioning organization.”
AEP has received at least $1.7 million in community service grants authorized by the General Assembly since 2005. When asked where all that taxpayer money went, LaSalle said: “That’s a great question.”
“I don’t know how the financials worked,” LaSalle said. “I didn’t have access to that.”
LaSalle also said she did not know how much Gallison’s salary as assistant director was at the time, but said she believed he was “a fiduciary of some kind.” Gallison would later take over as the organization’s executive director following the 2014 death of its founder, documents show.
“I didn’t see him there regularly,” she said. “He was out of the office a lot.”
LaSalle said she was surprised that so-called community-service grants approved by the legislature continued to flow to AEP after Gallison reached a 2007 settlement with the R.I. Ethics Commission for failing to report some of his income from the nonprofit.
“I thought that Ray was going to get slammed when the Ethics Commission charged him initially – I thought at that time all of this would have come out then, and when it didn’t, business continued,” she said.
She said she asked then-executive director Leo DiMaio how the group could receive grant money from the General Assembly when it also employed a lawmaker.
“I said, ‘It seems to me the state grants are a conflict of interest,'” LaSalle recalled. “[DiMaio’s] response was, when it was time for the House to vote on the budget [Gallison] would get up and leave the room.”
Larry Berman, a spokesman for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, was not immediately able to say how many times if any Gallison recused himself from budget votes over the years.
The grants continued to flow into AEP after Mattiello appointed Gallison as chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee in March 2014. The current budget added a second grant for an affiliated organization, Man Up Inc.
Mattiello said Tuesday he now thinks it was not appropriate for a state legislator to be earning a salary from an organization so dependent on such grants.
LaSalle said that once she started working at AEP the organization was able to grow the number of students taking part in its program, which was charged with helping underprivileged young people prepare for college.
“I made sure kids were cared for and they received tutoring, they had opportunities to volunteer and [earn] scholarship money,” LaSalle said.
She said she has no idea what happened to AEP after she left in 2009.
Gallison resigned from his General Assembly seat on Tuesday as he faces an ongoing federal and state investigation.
It’s unclear if AEP is any way connected to the investigation of Gallison. The Bristol Democrat, 64, declined comment when questioned by Target 12 on Tuesday. His attorney said he couldn’t discuss the case in any detail.
The website for AEP was no longer working as of Thursday. Gallison was listed as the site’s administrator on its internet registration page.
Man Up, the second nonprofit affiliated with AEP, also received two separate taxpayer grants from the R.I. Department of Labor and Training within the last year, worth about $241,000 combined. Those grants were suspended pending an audit on Thursday.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.