Former Mattiello aide Britt acquitted of money-laundering charges, violating campaign-finance laws

Updated at 11:23 a.m. on Dec. 16, 2020.

PROVIDENCE – Jeffrey Britt, the former aide to House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, was acquitted Wednesday by R.I. Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini of money-laundering charges and allegations of violating campaign-finance laws.

The charges were brought forth in an October trial that was tied to Mattiello’s 2016 re-election campaign when Britt worked for the house speaker – who was ousted Nov. 3 by Republican candidate Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung for the House District 15 seat. Mattiello will soon be replaced by K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, as house speaker.

The verdict was confirmed by R.I. Judiciary spokesperson Craig Berke Wednesday.
Britt was alleged by authorities to have funded a $1,000 contribution through a third party to Shawna Lawton, a defeated Republican primary candidate in 2016, where the funds helped finance a mailer endorsing Mattiello in lieu of Lawton’s party’s nominee. Britt allegedly met with Lawton before sending the mailer, suggesting that Mattiello would back her anti-vaccination priorities in exchange for her support.

Before the trial, Britt, who now lives in Florida, rejected in July a five-year sentence plea deal, with 18 months to serve, if he pleaded guilty to money laundering.

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In Procaccini’s 35-page ruling, he concluded the state’s case which relied on witness testimony was in varying degrees “tentative, evasive [and] inconsistent,” and based upon “poor memory or the complete absence of memory” regarding critical facts associated with the filed charges. Procaccini also ruled that the state’s two witnesses, Lawton and Victor Pichette – a semi-retired private investigator – provided “fragile testimony spun through the use of misleading questions.”

“Notwithstanding the significant efforts of the State to develop credible evidence from the witnesses presented, this Court is constrained to conclude that the evidence falls woefully short of establishing the offenses charged,” Procaccini ruled.

In a statement Wednesday, R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha said he respects Procaccini’s decision and believed it was important to bring this case forward as it was about one thing: standing behind Rhode Island’s campaign finance transparency laws, and the Board of Elections’ ability to enforce them.

“The public has a right to know who really is providing support to candidates for public office,” Neronha said. “That transparency allows them to judge the motivations of those who support and endorse candidates, and to recognize potential conflicts of interest, before and after an election.”

Neronha also said the evidence put forth in the trial demonstrated how crucial the fight for transparency and election integrity is, noting that politics “doesn’t need to be a dirty business.”

“As I said when the charges in this case were announced, ensuring the integrity of elections is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the [R.I.] Board of Elections, and typically the involvement of this [attorney general’s] office is not necessary,” Neronha said. “However, when an individual turns a Board of Elections investigation into an endless, circus-like chase for the truth, as happened here, then this Office will use all the legal tools at its disposal to seek justice on behalf of the people of Rhode Island.”

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.