GoLocalProv Uncovers ‘Pay to Play’ in Central Falls
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
A local government watchdog described the contributions as an apparent pay-to-play situation. “If a contractor, or the principal of the contractor, or a high-ranking employee is donating to the politician who makes appointments that affect their contract, that’s what we call classic ‘pay to play,’” said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island. “The problem is, it’s not illegal in Rhode Island.” But even in states where it’s illegal it’s hard to prove that donations were intentionally made in exchange for a government contract, Marion said.
Records obtained by GoLocalProv show that five businesses that worked for the Wyatt Detention Facility had employees who contributed to Moreau’s mayoral campaign.
Web of documents and dollars
As mayor, Moreau is charged under state law with nominating the members of the board of directors for the detention facility, which determines which companies to hire for work at Wyatt. (The mayor’s nominations are confirmed by the city council.)
Alleged pay to play scenario
Attorney General-elect Peter Kilmartin has promised to push for a new law that would curtail pay-to-play donations. His spokesman, Brett Broesder, cited the Central Falls case as an example of why the legislation is needed.
“This alleged ‘pay-to-play’ scenario—the awarding of a government contract in exchange for campaign contributions—is an example of the shady activity that Attorney General-elect Peter Kilmartin staunchly opposes,” Broesder told GoLocalProv. “Peter Kilmartin will submit a tough bill aimed at further combating the seedy practice of ‘pay-to-play.’ If Kilmartin’s anti-‘pay-to-play’ measure becomes law, it will serve as another tool for use in cracking down on public corruption and restoring the public trust in government.”
Moreau already under investigation
Moreau (pictured below right) is no stranger to accusations of corruption: he is currently under investigation by State Police and the FBI after he allegedly steered $2 million in city work to a friend and campaign donor, Michael Bouthillette. Moreau also was stripped of his powers as mayor this past July after the City of Central Falls went into receivership. The receiver for the city, retired Superior Court Judge Mark Pfeiffer, has assumed the powers of mayor.
One of Moreau's top donors has also been entagled in controversy as well. O. Ahlborg & Sons, Inc. is currently being sued by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation for building a $20 million tipping facility at the state landfill that was allegedly over budget and behind schedule.
A company spokesman denied that there was anything improper about the awarding of the contract. “O. Ahlborg & Sons has participated in many projects over the years through the competitive bidding process, such as the case with the expansion of the Wyatt Center. In each case where O. Ahlborg & Sons was the winning bid, including the Wyatt Center, these projects have been awarded in a fair and open environment based on our qualifications,” said spokesman Gregg Perry. He noted that the Warwick-based company was chosen from among a pool of 20 applicants and said that Moreau was not part of the selection committee.
The man who oversaw the construction project, Anthony Ventetuolo, is also listed as a contributor to Moreau’s campaign over a three-year span, from 2005 to 2007. Ventetuolo and his management firm, Warwick-based Avcorr Consultants, LLC, worked for the Wyatt Detention Facility until the board of directors fired him in April 2009, citing the poor state of the facility’s finances.
• Ruggiero, Orton & Brochu whose attorney, Christopher Orton was legal counsel at Wyatt until February 2009, when the board of directors decided to not renew his contract, according to Margaret Lynch-Galadeta, who replaced him. Orton, who is now with a different law firm, Daley & Orton, could not be reached for comment.
• Cosco Incorporated, a Woonsocket-based supplier and installer of commercial and industrial fencing, lists Wyatt as one of its clients on its Web site. The company executive who contributed to Moreau, Vice President David Costantino, did not return a call for comment.
• The Louis Berger Group, a New Jersey-based consulting firm, did work on a variety of projects for the detention facility. It received its last contract from Wyatt in September 2004. A company spokeswoman said The Louis Berger Group “objects to any negative characterization” of the donation its Chief Operating Officer, James Bach, made to Moreau in 2005.
Lynch-Galadeta said she could not comment on any of the specific contracts or allegations of pay-to-play. She noted that Wyatt had undergone an audit a year ago which revealed that “a number of contracts of the previous administration had not followed the appropriate procedures.” She said new CEO Michael Fair, who was appointed in December 2009, has taken steps to make sure all contracts follow appropriate procedures and abide by city and state purchasing laws.
Moreau could not be reached for comment.
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