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R.I. political operative rejects deal, heading to trial in money-laundering case

House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello may be called as a witness

Jeffrey T. Britt appeared via video conference at court hearing in Rhode Island Superior Court on Wednesday.
Jeffrey T. Britt appeared via video conference at court hearing in Rhode Island Superior Court on Wednesday.Edward Fitzpatrick

WARWICK, R.I. — Political operative Jeffrey T. Britt rejected a plea deal Wednesday that would have sent him to prison for 18 months, opting instead for a trial that could see House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello called to the witness stand.

Britt, 51, has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and making a prohibited campaign contribution to aid Mattiello’s 2016 re-election campaign.

Judge Daniel A. Procaccini held a hearing at Kent County Superior Court, with Britt participating by video conference from his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The judge asked prosecutors to present their “last, best offer” of a plea deal.

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State Assistant Attorney General John M. Moreira said that the felony money laundering charge carried a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a potential $500,000 fine, and he said the state was offering a plea agreement that would include an 18-month prison sentence with a $2,000 fine.

Britt rejected it.

“I thought it was silly,” Britt’s lawyer, former U.S. Attorney Robert Clark Corrente, said of the offer after the hearing. Benchmarks for similar financial crimes call for no jail time upon a first offense, he said.

“So to propose as a resolution 18 months to serve I thought was unwarranted,” Corrente said. “(Britt) doesn’t think that he committed any crime, and the plea deal didn’t make any sense to us under the circumstances.”

Special Assistant Attorney General Stephen G. Dambruch declined to comment on the hearing. He said the case is scheduled for a status conference on Aug. 20.

Corrente said Britt plans to waive his right to a jury trial and hopes to have a bench trial sometime in the fall, potentially before Election Day in November.

Britt is accused of inappropriately donating money to the Republican candidate who lost a House primary, Shawna Lawton, so that she would put out a mailer endorsing Mattiello, a Cranston Democrat, in his hotly contested 2016 House district race against state Republican National Committeeman Steven Frias.

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Mattiello eked out a win, edging Frias by 85 votes. He’s now running for re-election against Republican Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, a GOP activist married to Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung.

Mattiello has denied knowing anything about the mailer until much later, depicting Britt as an overzealous campaign worker trying to “ingratiate” himself. But Corrente, Britt’s lawyer, has said that evidence presented at trial “will show that Mr. Britt was used by the Mattiello campaign as a fall guy.

The state’s list of potential witnesses includes Mattiello, Lawton, and Mattiello’s chief of staff, Leo Skenyon.

When asked on Wednesday if he plans to call Mattiello as a witness, Corrente said, “Some of that will depend on what the state does in its case, but he is certainly on our witness list.”


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