PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island State Police confirmed Monday they have opened an investigation into how a top State House staffer obtained $50,000 in free tuition from his old job after going to work for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.
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 he used his status 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.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office asked the state police to look into the Montanaro tuition scandal about two weeks ago, “and it is now under investigation,” Laura Meade Kirk, a spokeswoman for the state police, told Target 12 on Monday. She declined further comment.
A spokeswoman said the attorney general’s office does not confirm or deny investigations.
Joseph Penza, Montanaro’s attorney, said Montanaro voluntarily agreed to meet with the state police last Friday. “During that meeting, he answered every question they asked and will continue to cooperate fully with any outstanding questions they may have,” Penza told Target 12.
Penza expressed disappointment that the state police’s interest in how Montanaro obtained the tuition had become public.
“We will respect their process, but it is unfortunate that this information has leaked to the media within 48 hours of the meeting occurring and it is a disservice to my client that a cloud will now hang over this matter until the state police announce their investigation is closed and no criminal wrongdoing occurred here – a conclusion we have every confidence they will reach,” he said.
Larry Berman, a spokesman for Mattiello, said he was not aware of the state police probe and added that the General Assembly “has no involvement or any documents regarding this matter.”
Montanaro and Mattiello have insisted he did nothing wrong in obtaining the free tuition, which they say was authorized under his union contract. Montanaro and RIC have both refused to release the documents that show who approved the arrangement, citing his right to confidentiality.
R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell quickly renewed his call for Mattiello to fire Montanaro after learning about the legal probe.
“If Mattiello does not terminate Montanaro from his State House job now, Mattiello will send a clear message to the public that the speaker believes it is acceptable to have someone working for you who is investigated by the state police,” Bell said in a statement.
“The Montanaro scandal is a becoming a repeat of the John Carnevale scandal,” he added. “When Carnevale was exposed, Mattiello defended him. Only after more information come out and after Carnevale began being investigated by the state police did Mattiello finally request that Carnevale not seek re-election and returned a campaign contribution from him.”