WARWICK — Veteran political operative Jeffrey T. Britt on Friday pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and making a prohibited campaign contribution to bolster Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello’s 2016 reelection campaign.
“Not guilty as to both counts,” said Britt’s attorney, former US attorney Robert Clark Corrente.
Mattiello emerged from the Kent County courthouse soon after Britt left the building. House spokesman Larry Berman noted Mattiello is an attorney and said, “It was just a coincidence that both were there on separate matters.”
Superior Court Magistrate Judge John F. McBurney III agreed to release Britt on $10,000 personal recognizance and to waive extradition from Florida. Britt, 51, lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Britt is accused of funneling money to a Republican candidate, Shawna Lawton, so she could put out a mailer endorsing Mattiello in his hotly contested 2016 House district race against state Republican National Committeeman Steven Frias. Mattiello eked out a win, edging Frias by 85 votes.
On Oct. 18, a statewide grand jury indicted Britt on a felony charge of money laundering and a misdemeanor charge of making a prohibited campaign contribution — by disguising a donation as coming from someone else.
Mattiello, who has not been accused of a crime, has denied knowing anything until much later about the mailer. In a WPRO radio interview, Mattiello attributed Britt’s moves to an overzealous campaign worker trying to “ingratiate” himself.
When asked about Mattiello’s comments after Friday’s hearing, Corrente said, “We will have plenty of responses to those kinds of comments once we get to trial.”
Corrente referred to a statement he issued on Britt’s behalf after the indictment. That statement said evidence presented at trial “will show that Mr. Britt was used by the Mattiello campaign as a fall guy.”
The statement noted the Rhode Island Board of Elections closed its investigation with a warning to the Mattiello campaign. “It certainly does not justify the state’s overcharging this petty episode as money laundering, when — at most — it might be a misdemeanor under Rhode Island law,” the statement said. “We are confident that the jury will set this set-up for what it is.”
On Friday, McBurney set a pretrial conference for Jan. 7.
Assistant Attorney General John Moreira asked the court to require that Britt attend future court dates but allow him to request to be excused from certain court appearances since he lives out of state.
Corrente said Britt has an overseas trip — a cruise to New York and Bermuda — planned for March.
“At the appropriate time, I’d be happy to entertain at that request,” McBurney said.