Mattiello plans to question Carnevale about undercover investigation

GOP chair files registration complaint with canvassers, calls for committee removal

Rep. John Carnevale, left, and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, right.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Tuesday he plans to question state Rep. John Carnevale about whether or not he actually lives in his district after an undercover Target 12 investigation showed the four-term lawmaker misleading either the voters or the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.

Mattiello said he hadn’t spoken to Carnevale yet as of noontime Tuesday but did watch Target 12’s report, which aired Monday night and at one point showed the Providence lawmaker wrapping his face in a T-shirt in an apparent effort to avoid being caught on tape by undercover cameras.

“What I saw on TV looked odd,” Mattiello, D-Cranston, told Target 12 during an interview in his State House office.

Rep. John Carnevale wrapped his face in a T-shirt while undercover surveillance cameras were rolling.
Rep. John Carnevale wrapped his face in a T-shirt while undercover surveillance cameras were rolling.

“I’m going to ask him where he lives and expect that he lives in the district that he serves, or if he does not, clearly the rules would suggest that he should not run for re-election,” Mattiello said. “I hope he does,” he added. “If he does not, that calls for a remedy.”

Rhode Island Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell wasted no time taking action, announcing Tuesday he has filed a complaint with the Providence Board of Canvassers challenging Carnevale’s voter registration on the basis that he is not a resident of Providence.

“Another member of the House leadership is mired in scandal,” Bell said in a statement. “Putting a shirt over your face when you spot a television camera is the conduct of a criminal. Speaker Mattiello, we are embarrassed for you.”

There was no answer Tuesday at the phone number listed on Carnevale’s legislative website and the answering service said his mailbox is full. He again refused to answer Target 12’s questions at the State House on Tuesday afternoon, repeating that there was “no story” as he drove out of the parking lot.

However, Carnevale later insisted to reporters questioning him on the House floor that he lives at the Barbara Street address and plans to seek re-election from there in November.

Speaker Mattiello emphasized that he needs to gather more facts about the situation with Carnevale, whom he installed two years ago as vice-chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee. But he insisted that lawmakers must live in their districts.

“I expect every representative to know their district, to live in their district, to serve their district,” Mattiello said. “I cannot suggest in this case that this was not done – I certainly hope that the rules were followed correctly – and if it was not done, that was inappropriate.”

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea declined to say whether lawmakers are legally allowed to live outside the districts they represent, instead directing those wondering to examine this statute.

Mattiello said there are no plans to remove Carnevale from the Finance Committee’s leadership.

“As vice chair of the committee he does a good job,” the speaker said. “He runs a good committee when the chair is not there, his input always has been good – so from the committee standpoint, his input is actually very good and he does a good job.”

However, Bell said the speaker should remove Carnevale from the Finance Committee immediately. “Mattiello should not hesitate to take this action since he was quick to remove three House Democrats from their committees because they voted against new tolls,” Bell said.

Mattiello suggested changes could come next year.

“Committee assignments are something we’re going to look at very, very closely in January,” Mattiello added. “I don’t know exactly what the vetting process will be, but we’ll have an appropriate vetting process for every committee position.”

On Monday, the same day Target 12’s report aired, Carnevale amended nine years of ethics filings to belatedly disclose his ownership of the Johnston property where he was spotted with the T-shirt wrapped around his face. He joins roughly one in four lawmakers who’ve had to fix their ethics filings in the weeks since the abrupt resignation of House Finance Committee Chairman Ray Gallison – so many, in fact, that the Ethics Commission has given them a grace period to file without punishment.

“People have to be careful,” Mattiello said. “They have to abide by the rules. We expect in the end that everybody abides by the rules. The public demands it and the public deserves it. So we’re going to talk to all of our members and suggest that they take a closer look at those ethics filings and comply by the rules as thoroughly as they possibly can.”

Carnevale signed a mortgage document in 2007, a year before he ran for office, pledging to live in the Johnston property – which is not in his House district – rather than the Providence address he claims as his own. Mattiello, who is a lawyer, speculated that it’s possible “if the mortgage came first, then it was truthful at the time he got the mortgage.”

Mattiello also said he understands that voters are frustrated with the relentless headlines about ethical and legal problems involving members of the General Assembly.

“They expect and demand their elected officials to follow the rules,” he said. “They want to know that we’re in fact serving their interests, not anybody else’s interest, and we are working as hard as we can for them. I can assure them that myself and most of the folks up here are doing exactly that.”

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

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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