I-Team: Lawmaker urged to resign in wake of contract probe

Peter Palumbo

The rhetoric is ratcheting up for state Rep. Peter Palumbo, D-Cranston, to step down, following the resignation of his friend, Democratic Party Chairman David Caprio, on Tuesday.

The resignation came in the wake of an NBC 10 I-Team investigation into questionable beach concession contracts at Scarborough, Roger Wheeler and Misquamicut state beaches.

"In fairness to his constituency and the voters of Rhode Island, we think Peter Palumbo should step aside from his campaign and step down," said Robert Paquin III of the state Republican Party. "Of course innocent until proven guilty is paramount, but there's something going on here."

State police are investigating how Palumbo ended up managing the concessions for Caprio's newly formed company after Palumbo originally won the bids but backed out.

Caprio was next in line, his price giving the state about $226,000 less.

Caprio didn't want to discuss the bids with the I-Team. The I-Team found Palumbo at the Scarborough stand.

"I don't understand why it wouldn't look good. It was the way it was, unfortunately. Maybe it doesn't look good but there's only so many people in this business. So, that's it," said Palumbo.

Competitors quickly became suspicious, alleging the two politicians worked together to win the contracts.

Republican candidate for governor Ken Block renewed his charge for more accountability Wednesday at an unrelated press conference. His opponent, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, called on Gov. Lincoln Chafee to rescind the beach contracts and issue new bids.

"There are rules and regulations in place to prevent insider deals in procuring state contracts, but government officials must be diligent in enforcing these rules," Fung said in a statement.

It's a move state Republicans agree with.

"I think the right thing to do would be to pull it to do a proper bidding process, something that is open and available to the public. That process should be more transparent as well," Paquin said.

Chafee responded and said state police have briefed him, but as far as throwing out the contracts he cited the ongoing investigation.

"No state agency or the Governor's office will take action during any inquiries," Chafee said.

The I-Team checked with the state Ethics Commission Wednesday and no official complaint was filed. However, that does not mean a preliminary investigation is not under way, according to a commission investigator.

Palumbo has a challenger for his seat in November, Republican Robert Lancia.