Rep. Michael J. Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Scituate, Cranston) has introduced legislation that will codify in state law the public corruption and while collar crime unit within the Department of the Attorney General.
The legislation, 2015-H 5468, was introduced at the request of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Judiciary this Wednesday, February 25. That hearing will be held in Room 205 of the State House and will begin at the Rise of the House (approximately 5 p.m.).
Although a white collar crime unit exists in the Attorney General’s office, the legislation will codify that unit in law, ensuring that it will continue in perpetuity and not be abandoned by any future Attorney General. The white collar crime unit will, as a result, have the status of other units within the Department of the Attorney General, such as the Consumer Protection Unit and the Office of Elder Abuse Advocate.
The unit will be charged with investigating potential cases of abuse of the public trust and prosecuting those cases, establishing a whistleblower hotline for reports of potential violations regarding the public trust and cooperating with local, state and federal officials on investigations and prosecutions.
“All citizens of Rhode Island have a right to open, honest and ethical government,” said Representative Marcello. “Recent and historical cases of the abuse of public trust have had a negative impact on the operation of state and municipal government and on the state’s economy.”
“By passing this bill, the General Assembly would be showing that, on behalf of the citizens we represent, we agree that we must provide a safeguard against abuse of the public trust by public servants. Establishing the public corruption and white collar crime unit in the Department of the Attorney General is a significant step toward providing that safeguard and restoring citizen confidence in their elected official,” said Representative Marcello.
Also scheduled to be heard by the Judiciary Committee that day is another piece of legislation introduced by Representative Marcello at the request of the Attorney General. That bill (2015-H 5469) would establish crimes against the public trust and set criminal penalties and civil damages for offenses.
The legislation would create several new criminal offenses including bribery in official and political matters, selling political endorsements/special influence, speculating or wagering on official action of information and theft of honest services. The legislation is based on the Model Penal Code and would allow law enforcement the tools to effectively investigate and prosecute public corruption cases. Persons convicted under the statute would be subject to a felony and face imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine of $150,000.
Further, the legislation would make the corrupt officials liable for anything of value received in the course of such violation to the State. The legislation would also provide potential pension revocation for any public officer or employee who commits any felony through the use or attempted us of their position.
"Rhode Island cannot effectively go after public officials who use their office and position to their financial and political advantage without updating our public corruption laws," said Attorney General Kilmartin, who has filed this legislation since first coming into office in 2011. "We cannot continue down a path that creates cynicism about our elected officials. We, as public servants and leaders, must take action to crack down on acts that contribute to public district of our government and bring Rhode Island's public corruption statutes in line with other states and the federal government."