Ex-Rep. Pacheco: I had no role in deciding to give Montanaro free tuition

Former Democratic chairman, now a top RIC official, says he was only a 'conduit'

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Former state lawmaker and Rhode Island Democratic Party chairman Ed Pacheco said Thursday he spoke with Frank Montanaro Jr. about the latter’s efforts to secure free tuition while working at the State House, but insisted he had no role in deciding whether to provide the benefit.

Pacheco, who has been a senior staffer at Rhode Island College since 2014, answered questions after a public-records request filed by Target 12 brought to light more than 1,200 pages of emails and other internal RIC communications about the Montanaro affair. Pacheco’s name pops up repeatedly in the material, some of which is heavily redacted.

Many of the documents involve responses to media inquiries following Target 12’s June revelation that Montanaro, also a former lawmaker, had received about $50,000 of free tuition after leaving his job at RIC to take a six-figure position with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. RIC has since admitted the arrangement was highly unusual, and Montanaro has promised to pay most of the money back. The attorney general’s office is also reviewing the case.

“Look, I understand again the perception of this – I was a former officeholder, I served in political capacities,” Pacheco told Target 12 in a sit-down interview. “But this is with regards to my capacity at the college in managing government relations.”

“I did interact with Mr. Montanaro at the State House – as I mentioned, part of my responsibilities in assisting with government relations was managing relationships with both elected and appointed officials,” he said.

Among the documents released by RIC is an email Pacheco sent to Montanaro in June 2015 reminding Montanaro to fill out the required paperwork to receive his tuition benefit. (Pacheco failed to recall the message until it was shown to him.) Another, from September 2016, shows other RIC officials noting Pacheco had seen Montanaro that morning to inform him his old job was being filled.

Pacheco described his role as “a communications conduit” between RIC’s leadership and State House officials, but said he was only looped in on decisions that had already been made by the college’s former presidents: Nancy Carriuolo and then, on an interim basis, Clark Greene.

“I have not ever had, nor do I have, the authority to approve these types of requests,” Pacheco said, adding, “I was never involved in the decision-making, nor was I ever asked to intervene or insert myself in this process.” He also said he had never had any conversations with Mattiello or any other members of the speaker’s staff about the matter.

Pacheco revealed that Greene initially denied Montanaro’s request for a third year of free tuition in early 2016, only to reverse the decision when Montanaro’s union president, Dennis Sousa, threatened to file a grievance if it was not allowed.

“That was his decision, and I was informed of that decision,” Pacheco said.

Pacheco said the college has already conducted an internal review of how the Montanaro matter was handled, and has brought in an independent outside consultant to review the college’s policies and procedures on tuition waivers. A report is expected to be issued next month, he said.

Pacheco said he and the college are aiming to be transparent and responsive. “I understand that this is a frustrating situation,” he said. “I also understand that Rhode Islanders deserve straightforward and honest responses to your questions.”

Pacheco, 35, served in the Rhode Island House from 2005 to 2010. He joined RIC in June 2014 as associate vice president for development and external relations, and was promoted last January to interim vice president for college advancement. He was previously executive director of Education in Action, a Providence nonprofit group.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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