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Merolla: FBI Shows Warwick Interest, Civil WFD Sick Time Inquiry Continues

Warwick City Hall
Warwick City Hall. Surplus
Warwick City Hall.

WARWICK, RI —Council President Steve Merolla said Monday on Dan Yorke’s State of Mind program on WPRI.com that the FBI interviewed him as part of an unspecified investigation, then, later that night, questioned former Mayor Scott Avedisian’s claim of ignorance of an illegal firefighter sick time agreement signed and executed by members of his administration.

During a Wednesday night phone interview, Merollaconfirmed the FBI spoke with him, but said he was unable to elaborate beyond

the fact that the interview happened several weeks ago. He said he could notdiscuss what the FBI agent or agents had asked him, out of concern for theagency’s investigation.

Merolla’s initial disclosure that the FBIspoke with him followed a conversation with Yorke about the city’s investigationinto an illegal 2013 side deal granting Warwick firefighters extra monthly sick time,signed by Warwick Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong, Warwick Firefighter’s UnionPresident William Lloyd and Warwick City Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, all of whomhave since either retired or left their positions.

During the Warwick City Council Finance Committee meeting Monday, Merolla explained the firefighter sick leave provision presented to the Council stated that after accruing 140 hours of sick time, firefighters would receive 50 percent compensation for each new day accrued.

Instead, the side deal paid firefighters half of the sick daypay, with the other half paid out at the end of each month.

“Last time I checked, that’s 100 percent of every sick day.Nowhere is that reflected to the Council,” Merolla said Monday.

TheWarwick City Council was never presented with the second deal for theirapproval, in violation of City law established by Solomon while he was City

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Council president. Instead, Merolla said, the City Council was presented with acontract spelling out pay for only half of sick time accrued past 140 days,with a fiscal note from City Finance Director Ernest Zmyslinski attesting to the financial impact to thebudget from that version of the contract.

“We’re looking at written contracts and fiscal notes that arefalse. Fraudulent.” Merolla said.

Formermayor Scott Avedisian, now head of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority,has said he was not aware of the agreement at the time, though he has sinceseen a copy.

“I thinkthat the big question here is who authored the contract that was signed.If it does not match up with the one that went before the council forratification then I would be looking to see who drafted the document and seewhere that leads,” Avedisian said in December.

“Mr. Avedisian now claims that he had no knowledge of this, when his department director for the Fire Department signed off on it, his city solicitor witnessed it, his finance director approved it, and his treasurer paid out on it. And it’s in writing,” Merolla said Monday.

Avedisian could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

“I don’t know how much bolder you can be, to implement somethingthat doesn’t come before the City Council for approval. And this is where Ihave to compliment Mayor Solomon again, because if he didn’t put in theordinance that required City Council approval of these items, what elsewould’ve been buried?” Merolla added.

Merolla said an updated firefighter contract was presented tothe Council in 2016, with no mention of the side agreement of 2012, increasing

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the amount of a sick day paid after 140 is accrued to 75 percent.

“No mention of this. No mention in the fiscal note that’s given,by the finance director (Ernest Zmyslinski),” Merolla said.

Merolla added the City is now in litigation arguing firefightergrievances from Solomon’s ending of the illegal agreements. He said Solomonalso discovered five unauthorized contracts in the City’s ManagementInformation Services Department totaling $760,000, which he ended in June.

MayorJoseph Solomon first hinted at thepossibility of an FBI investigation in December, also whiledetailing the City’s efforts to learn more about the illegal sick time sidedeal. He said that he reached out to the FBI to offer his assistance in theevent that the agency is investigating the side deal, but received no detailson a possible investigation.

Cityofficials are continuing a civil investigation into the firefighter sick timedeal and the other unauthorized contracts.

CouncilmanJeremy Rix said the City Council has hired Providence accounting firm YarlasKaplan Santilli Moran Ltd. to prepare reports on the financial loss the Cityhas suffered as a result of the side deal.

“Once Ireceive reports calculating amounts improperly paid, I will listen to therecommendations on what we should do to resolve the matter, including appropriaterestitution to the City,” Rix said.

“Rest assured, this Council will pursue all the rights andremedies it has in its control to right these wrongs that have been committedagainst the public,” Merolla said.

Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of WarwickPost.com. Contact him at editor@warwickpost.com with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.