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‘Fall guy’ says House speaker’s chief of staff asked him to sign false affidavit

Attorney for political operative Jeffrey T. Britt argues that Speaker Mattiello’s chief of staff “knew all the details” about controversial mailer

Jeff Britt, left, stands with his defense attorney Robert Corrente during his arraignment Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, at Kent County Superior Court in Warwick, R.I. Britt, 51, a longtime political strategist, is charged with felony money laundering and making an illegal campaign contribution in the name of another person to support a candidate. (Bob Breidenbach/Providence Journal via AP, Pool)Bob Breidenbach/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE ― In newly filed court papers, political operative Jeffrey T. Britt says the chief of staff for House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello asked him to sign an affidavit about a controversial campaign mailer, but he refused to sign it because it was false.

Britt is charged with money laundering and making a prohibited campaign contribution during Mattiello’s 2016 re-election campaign. He is accused of funneling money to a Republican, Shawna Lawton, so she could put out a mailer endorsing Mattiello, a Cranston Democrat, who ended up edging another Republican by a mere 85 votes.

Britt’s lawyer, former US attorney Robert Corrente, filed a court document Friday saying he plans to call both Mattiello and his chief of staff, Leo Skenyon, as witnesses when the case goes to trial in state Superior Court.


In that document, Corrente says he plans to ask Skenyon to testify about “the affidavit he prepared and asked Jeffrey Britt to sign which falsely denied that the Mattiello campaign arranged, coordinated, or directed Shawna Lawton to make an independent expenditure for her campaign mailer.”

When Britt was first charged, Corrente said Britt was being used by the Mattiello campaign as a “fall guy.”

And in an interview, Corrente told the Globe, “It is our contention that Skenyon knew all the details about the discussions between Britt and Shawna Lawton and knew and directed Britt to seek an endorsement from her. He knew the parties were discussing preparation of the mailer.”

Corrente argued that Mattiello and Lawton offered contradictory stories to the state Board of Elections, yet the board referred only Britt to the attorney general’s office for prosecution. “Go figure,” he said.

For instance, Corrente noted that in November 2016, Mattiello’s lawyer, Michael DiChiro Jr., responded to a complaint by the state Republican Party, saying that neither Mattiello nor Britt had arranged, coordinated, or directed Lawton to make an independent expenditure for her campaign mailer.


But Corrente said Mattiello’s campaign contradicted that stance in January 2017 when it amended an earlier campaign finance report to say it had received a $2,150 “in-kind contribution″ from Lawton. And because of a $1,000 limit on such contributions, Mattiello’s campaign refunded Lawton’s campaign $1,150.

On Saturday, a spokesman said Mattiello has no comment on the court filing, and Skenyon had no immediate comment.

Corrente said that, as far as he knows, Mattiello has never been questioned about these matters by the Board of Elections or the attorney general’s office. But he said he plans to call Mattiello as a witness.

“I want to walk through the chronology of what he said and when he said it — what he knew and when he knew it,” Corrente said.

Besides Mattiello and Skenyon, the list of potential defense witnesses includes two members of the media — WPRO talk show host Dan Yorke and GoLocalProv CEO Josh Fenton — and Representative Gregory Costantino, a Lincoln Democrat.

York, Fenton, and Costantino “are expected to testify that during the 2016 campaign, Jeffrey Britt spoke openly and publicly about his work to secure endorsements from Shawna Lawton and a variety of other public figures on behalf of the Mattiello campaign, and the fact that those efforts were undertaken with the full knowledge and express approval of Leo Skenyon and the Mattiello campaign,” the court document says.


In the court filing, Corrente said he also plans to call Britt’s former attorney, Michael Lepizzera, to talk about “his discussions about the affidavit Mr. Skenyon wanted Jeffrey Britt to sign, and about Mr. Britt’s refusal to sign the affidavit because it was not truthful.”

And he plans to call Daniel Calhoun, Britt’s husband, to talk about “Mr. Britt’s refusal to sign the affidavit because it was not truthful.”

Other potential witnesses include former state Republican Party Chairman Brandon S. Bell, who filed a complaint over the Lawton mailer; Frank Montanaro, executive director of the Joint Committee on Legislative Services; Matthew Jerzyk, a former Mattiello legal adviser and campaign aide; and Checkmate Consulting Group owner Brad Dufault.

A pretrial conference is scheduled for March 30 before Superior Court Magistrate Judge John F. McBurney III. A so-called Frye hearing is also scheduled that day to address any potential plea agreement. But Corrente said he has had no discussions with prosecutors about a possible resolution of the charges.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.