PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Thursday one of his top aides bowed to public pressure in agreeing to repay $50,000 in free tuition he obtained while working at the State House, but continued to insist the appointee did nothing wrong.
Target 12 reported last month that Frank Montanaro Jr., a former lawmaker, spent three years on unpaid leave from his old position at Rhode Island College after taking a $156,000 job appointed by Mattiello, and that his status allowed him to collect $49,787 in free tuition over that period. After two weeks of mounting controversy – and Target 12’s discovery that he claimed not to be on leave when seeking the tuition – Montanaro announced he would repay the money.
A RIC spokeswoman said Thursday the college has not yet reached an agreement with Montanaro to get the money back, but that his attorney is in discussions with a lawyer for the college about it.
Appearing on WPRO’s Dan Yorke Show, Mattiello again said the free tuition “was a legally entitled-to benefit” under Montanaro’s union contract, but said the controversy presented “a distraction.” He also dismissed the idea of firing Montanaro, describing him as a “great” employee.
“I thought that since he wasn’t physically working at the university at that time that that would be the appropriate thing to do,” Mattiello said. “I asked him to do it, he did it – he didn’t have to do it. If he had to do it, it’d be a different story. The politics involved, he had to do it. When you work in the speaker’s office, you’ve got to have the confidence of the public, or of the General Assembly.”
Alluding to the documents showing Montanaro repeatedly claimed he was not on leave when he applied for the tuition benefit, Mattiello said: “I do not believe he made any incorrect representations. He said he relied upon them [RIC officials] to help him fill out the paperwork and I think that you’ll see it’s in order.”
RIC and Montanaro have refused to release a settlement agreement or other documents that would show who approved the tuition waivers after he went to work at the State House and the terms of the deal.
Tim White contributed to this report.