Rhode Island House speaker targeted in probe

FBI investigators leave the office of Rhode island House Speaker Gordon Fox at the Statehouse in Providence, R.I., Friday, March 21, 2014. Rhode Island House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello says he has called an "informational caucus" for Friday evening for Democrats to talk about the future of the House. Mattiello tells The Associated Press that Friday's news that House Speaker Gordon Fox's statehouse office and home were raided by state and federal law enforcement is "unsettling." Mattiello says he wants to be the next speaker, and is aware that other House members, including Chris Blazejewski and Mike Marcello, are also interested in the top spot. Neither lawmaker returned messages. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
FBI investigators leave the office of Rhode island House Speaker Gordon Fox at the Statehouse in Providence, R.I., Friday, March 21, 2014. Rhode Island House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello says he has called an "informational caucus" for Friday evening for Democrats to talk about the future of the House. Mattiello tells The Associated Press that Friday's news that House Speaker Gordon Fox's statehouse office and home were raided by state and federal law enforcement is "unsettling." Mattiello says he wants to be the next speaker, and is aware that other House members, including Chris Blazejewski and Mike Marcello, are also interested in the top spot. Neither lawmaker returned messages. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Law enforcement officials raided the office and home of House Speaker Gordon Fox on Friday as part of a criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office, FBI, IRS and state police.

Officials would not say who or what was being investigated, but authorities worked for hours inside the Democratic House speaker’s Statehouse office while state troopers stood outside.

Authorities entered the office carrying an evidence bag and empty cardboard boxes Friday morning. Fox’s spokesman, Larry Berman, said state police had asked everyone working in the office to leave but he didn’t know why.

Around 4 p.m., a dozen authorities exited Fox’s office carrying boxes and other items.

Several news outlets reported that Fox returned to his home on the East Side of Providence on Friday afternoon, shortly after FBI agents removed boxes from it. He did not comment.

A U.S. attorney’s office spokesman, Jim Martin, wouldn’t comment when asked whether the House speaker was being investigated. He said two federal search warrants had been executed, but he wouldn’t say whether they were connected to Fox.

Fox is just the latest politician to be wrapped up in a criminal investigation in Rhode Island, a state with a long history of elected officials getting into trouble with the law. Former Independent Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, one of the longest-serving mayors in U.S. history, went to prison in 2002 for racketeering conspiracy after a federal probe found he presided over widespread corruption in office. Former Republican Gov. Edward DiPrete went to prison in the 1990s after admitting he took bribes while in office.

Fox has represented Providence for more than two decades in the state’s part-time General Assembly, and he became the nation’s first openly gay House speaker in 2010. He has a private law practice.

A spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee said he wasn’t commenting on the investigation.

“He has been briefed on the situation, and he continues to be updated by R.I. State Police Colonel Steven O’Donnell,” Faye Zuckerman wrote in an email.

Lawmakers were already maneuvering Friday to replace Fox. House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello said he was among those who hoped to become the next House speaker. He was camped out in a restaurant in the city’s Federal Hill neighborhood Friday afternoon making calls to fellow Democrats and called an “informational caucus” for Friday evening to talk about “the future of the House.”

He said the news of the raids was “unsettling,” but he stopped short of calling for Fox to relinquish his leadership position.

“Clearly this is a distraction,” Mattiello said following the caucus, which was attended by about two dozen lawmakers. “I’ve got a lot of support. … I am confident I have the votes to be the next speaker.”

He said he had tried to call Fox but his voice mail was full.

Rep. James McLaughlin, a Cumberland Democrat, attended Friday night’s meeting after hearing the news about the raid on the television news.

“This is all we need, what with all the problems that we already have,” he said before the meeting. After it, speaking of the House of Representatives, he said, “We’re in turmoil.”

Asked at the Statehouse on Friday afternoon if Fox had plans to resign, Berman said, “Not that I’m aware of.”

“I’m sure he’s talking to advisers about his future,” he added.

Berman said he wasn’t aware that any other lawmakers were questioned as part of the investigation.

He said that Fox has had many great accomplishments as speaker and that whatever this investigation is about, “I don’t think it reflects on his legislative” achievements.

In January, Fox agreed to a settlement with the state ethics commission for failing to disclose he had done more than $40,000 in legal work for a Providence economic development agency. Fox acknowledged breaking a law that requires elected officials to annually report whether they received more than $250 in income from a government agency and agreed to pay a $1,500 civil fine.

Lawyer Albin Moser, who represented Fox in the recent complaint before the state ethics commission, wouldn’t comment on Friday’s events or say whether he is still representing Fox.

Jason Grammitt, of the state ethics commission, said the office wasn’t involved in the investigation but wouldn’t comment on whether its staff had referred anything from its earlier investigation to federal or state authorities.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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