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Britt lawyer says Mattiello is trying to buy off witnesses

Jeffrey T. Britt, left, and his lawyer, former US attorney Robert Clark Corrente, as they left the Kent County Courthouse on March 10.Edward Fitzpatrick

CRANSTON, R.I. — House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello is being accused of “trying to buy off witnesses” by paying $6,000 to a consulting firm headed by Edward Cotugno, a potential witness in an upcoming money laundering trial stemming from Mattiello’s 2016 reelection campaign.

Veteran political operative Jeffrey T. Britt has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and making a prohibited campaign contribution to aid Mattiello’s 2016 re-election campaign. Britt’s lawyer, former US Attorney Robert Clark Corrente, has said evidence presented at trial “will show that Mr. Britt was used by the Mattiello campaign as a fall guy.”

In a newly filed campaign finance report, Mattiello’s campaign revealed that it paid $6,000 to Winning Ways on June 29 for “consultant and professional services.”

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“This is a typical response from the Speaker — trying to buy off witnesses in the upcoming trial,” Corrente said Sunday. “Fortunately, most of the witnesses are already on record. To the extent that they now try to change their stories, now we know why.”

Mattiello, a Cranston Democrat, is seeking re-election in November. His Republican opponent in the House District 15 race, Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, also criticized Mattiello over the $6,000 payment.

“In a wildly brazen move, Nick Mattiello has re-engaged a shady mail ballot operative in Ed Cotugno, who, along with his wife, are central characters in the upcoming criminal trial involving felony money laundering charges in the 2016 campaign,” Fenton-Fung said.

She said Mattiello has also given Cotugno’s son a $75,000-a-year job at the State House. “How’s that for using taxpayer money to potentially influence someone,” she said.

Mattiello campaign spokeswoman Patti Doyle said Cotugno was a member of Mattiello’s campaign team in the past two campaigns and he will be part of the campaign again this year. “I have no other response to any other silliness,” she said.

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Britt is accused of inappropriately donating money to Shawna Lawton, a Republican candidate who lost a GOP primary, so that she would put out a mailer endorsing Mattiello in his 2016 House district race against state Republican National Committeeman Steven Frias. Mattiello eked out a win, edging Frias by 85 votes.

The state Republican Party filed a complaint with the Board of Elections in October 2016, accusing Mattiello’s campaign of illegally coordinating with Lawton on the mailer. The party claimed the $2,150 spent on the mailer was an in-kind contribution from Lawton that exceeded the state’s $1,000 annual limit on donations.

The board found that Lawton, who had just $43 in her campaign account after the primary, received $1,000 each from two Mattiello-affiliated donors, Victor Pichette and Teresa Graham, to pay for the mailer. The board issued warnings to Mattiello and Lawton but referred Britt to the attorney general’s office for potential prosecution.

Graham is married to Cotugno, a long-time campaign operative who helped Mattiello with the mail-ballot effort in 2016.

State prosecutors have included Cotugno on their list of potential witnesses at trial, saying he could be called to testify about State Police reports regarding Graham, Mattiello chief of staff Leo Skenyon, and Matt Jerzyk, Mattielo’s former deputy legal counsel and a political operative.

On Sunday, Corrente said he also might call Cotugno as a witness because he claims Cotugno was in a position to know that Mattiello and Skenyon “were deeply involved in the planning” of the controversial campaign flier.

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Corrente noted that in court papers, Britt has said that Skenyon asked him to sign an affidavit about the Lawton campaign mailer, but Britt refused to sign it because it was false. Corrente has contended 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.”

A pretrial conference is scheduled for Aug. 20 in state Superior Court in Kent County. Corrente said he expects the case to go to trial at the end of September or early October — before Election Day.


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