Tag: operative

A poorly worded state law could decide the fate of R.I. political operative

The judge said he won’t issue a ruling in the high-profile trial for another five to seven weeks – meaning the verdict will come in after Election Day, when Mattiello faces another hard-fought re-election campaign in House District 15.

The weeklong trial concluded on Friday after prosecutors made final oral arguments, claiming that Britt committed a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison when he funneled $1,000 to a defeated Republican candidate, Shawna Lawton, so she could put out a mailer endorsing Mattiello, a Cranston Democrat.

Mattiello testified on Thursday, saying he never authorized the Lawton mailer and was angry when it hit the mailboxes in his district just before Election Day.

After hearing final arguments, Procaccini said Rhode Island’s money laundering statute has “gone virtually unnoticed” for many years.

“I consulted with my colleagues. I’ve been on the bench for 20 years,” he said. “No one recalls a money laundering case in the state Superior Court being filed or pursued in any way.”

Without prior cases as a guide, much will depend on the interpretation of the law’s language, he said. But the problem, he said, is that, “It does not read in a smooth, simple straightforward fashion.”

For instance, he said, the statute uses colons and semicolons rather than the commas found in most criminal laws, and it doesn’t use the “and/or” conjunction found in many laws.

So, Procaccini said, it remains unclear if the elements of the crime spelled out in the law match the elements outlined in Britt’s indictment.

Procaccini noted that other states have different degrees of money laundering crimes, based in part on the amount of money involved. But Rhode Island has just one level of money laundering and it carries a fine of up to $500,000 and prison term of up to 20 years.

So, he said, he wants to be sure that he is properly interpreting that statute, and he wants to be sure it has been properly charged and applied.

“Does the plain language of the indictment and the statute fairly and properly apprise the defendant of what he has been charged with?” Procaccini said.

The judge asked lawyers for both sides to address those issues in legal memos that are due on Oct. 19. Once he receives those memos, he said, he expects to issue a ruling within four to six weeks.

That would mean the verdict would come after the Nov. 3 general election, when Mattiello faces Republican activist Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, who is married to Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung.

Procaccini said he will provide a week’s advance notice of the verdict. That will offer enough time for Britt, who now lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to return to Rhode Island. Britt was returning to Florida and excused from appearing in court Friday.

Special Attorney General Stephen G. Dambruch made a closing statement Friday, outlining the sequence of events that began after Britt began working as a consultant for the Mattiello campaign in 2016.

State prosecutor Stephen G. Dambruch makes closing arguments at the Jeffrey T. Britt money-laundering trial.
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