Crime, Local News, News, Providence, Top Video, West Bay

Affidavit: Sen. Kettle sent nude photos of girlfriend to married friend

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COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — State Sen. Nicholas Kettle allegedly sent nude photos of his girlfriend to a friend in exchange for similar photos of the friend’s wife, according to a court document obtained by Eyewitness News.

The state police affidavit, filed in Kent County District Court, lays out the case for a video voyeurism charge against Kettle. He was arrested on the charge on Friday after an investigation that involved the seizure of multiple cell phones, iPads and computers.

The case is separate from two extortion charges filed against Kettle. Those stem from a secret grand jury indictment that was unsealed Monday.

In the video voyeurism affidavit, State Police Detective Robert Hopkins says Kettle’s girlfriend at the time came into the State Police barracks with Kettle’s iPad, which he had left at her house. She said she found text messages on it between Kettle and a friend, in which Kettle shared nude photos of the girlfriend.

“He sent explicit pictures of now I believe his ex-girlfriend to another subject out of state without her knowledge,” Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin said.

The photos, according to the affidavit, all showed the girlfriend looking in the other direction. She said she had no idea the photos were taken.

On Jan. 16, state police executed a search warrant at Kettle’s home and seized his iPhone.

According to the affidavit, Kettle sent the friend photos of his girlfriend while the friend sent nude photos of his wife. The two met in the Boy Scouts, according to Kettle’s girlfriend.

“Mr. Kettle stated that he needed to be ‘stealthy’ and was asking [the friend] for advice on how to take a video without [his girlfriend] knowing,” Detective Hopkins writes in the document. Hopkins also said the text messages with the nude photos had been deleted from Kettle’s iPhone, but had synced to other devices including his iPad via iCloud.

Police also executed a search warrant at Kettle’s friend’s house in New Hampshire, seizing his electronic devices.

Kettle was arraigned by a justice of the peace on one count of video voyeurism on Friday. An arraignment in Kent County District Court has not yet been scheduled.

Kettle’s attorney, Paul DiMaio, said he doesn’t believe the facts of the case amount to video voyeurism because the statute requires the photos be taken for “sexual gratification.”

“I don’t think he did that,” DiMaio said.

“We wouldn’t have charged if there wasn’t gratification,” Lt. Col. Philbin said.

In a separate case Monday, Kettle was indicted on two counts of extortion, accused of threatening and attempting to compel a Senate page to have sex with him. Both the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate have called for his resignation, and said they would support a vote to expel him from the Senate.

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Crime, Local News, News, Providence, West Bay

Man says RI attorney used him as ‘scapegoat’ for check-cashing scheme

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Marcus Crook says he was surprised when he was picked up by police at his job in Connecticut back in December, and sent to Rhode Island to face charges in an alleged check-cashing scheme from 2016.

The 30-year-old Pawtucket man was charged with three crimes, accused of cashing checks from the business account of attorney Robert McNelis at a local establishment, which lost more than $7,000 in the alleged scheme.

“He used me as a scapegoat,” Crook said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Thursday.

Police said McNelis had accused Crook of stealing his checkbook. But a month later, McNelis was also arrested, charged with 11 counts including bank fraud and soliciting another to commit a crime.

“Every check that was cashed, I was directed to do by Rob,” Crook said. “I had no reason to believe that anything I was doing was illegal.”

Crook, who said he knew McNelis because the lawyer had considered representing him in a civil case, told State Police that McNelis had directed him to cash the checks. Police said Wednesday: “The investigation corroborated certain key aspects of what Mr. Crook had told investigators.”

“I had text messages back and forth between Rob and I,” Crook said. “State Police aren’t going to go arrest him on 11 counts just on the word of me.”

State Police spokesperson Laura Meade Kirk declined to comment on those text messages on Thursday. But McNelis’ attorney–his twin brother Ryan McNelis–claims the texts are fabricated.

“A doctored, fabricated text record that Mr. Crook created by a cloned cell phone,” Ryan McNelis said in an interview on Wednesday.

Ryan McNelis said his brother maintains his innocence, and believes he will be exonerated as the case is adjudicated. He also contends that Crook stole his checkbook from Robert McNelis’ Johnston law office.

“He had access to the building and raided my brother’s office while my brother was away,” Ryan McNelis said.

“I didn’t steal them from his office,” Crook countered, claiming Robert McNelis handed him the checks. “I was actually sitting on his couch at his house.”

Crook says McNelis told him he needed the cash to pay back a woman from a case that was the subject of a disciplinary matter before the Supreme Court in 2016. According to the court order, McNelis had a non-lawyer assistant who had access to his financial accounts, and overcharged a client. McNelis paid the woman back $9,100, and was publicly censured by the court for his “recklessness.”

The court said he had ample time to learn from his errors after a previous public censureship in 2014.

McNelis was arrested at the Garrahy courthouse in Providence on Wednesday, and later arraigned and released on personal recognizance. His brother said he was heading on a belated honeymoon to Europe on Thursday.

Crook has a lengthy criminal record, and acknowledges he has broken the law on multiple occasions. He said McNelis paid him to cash the checks back in 2016, and he needed the money at the time.

“I’m responsible for what I do, and what I do wrong,” Crook said. “That’s all on me.” But he says he feels that the attorney exploited him in this case.

“A lawyer who’s supposed to have my best interest at heart,” Crook said. “Instead of having my best interest at heart, he used me as a scapegoat.”

Crime, Local News, Massachusetts, National, New England, News, SE Mass, Top Video, US & World, West Bay

Warwick man sentenced to 15 years for terrorist plot after flipping for the government

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BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) — Occasionally choking back tears, a Warwick man who plotted to behead a conservative blogger renounced ISIS in a Boston courtroom Wednesday morning, vowing to become a productive member of society after he serves time for his role in the terrorist plot.

Nicholas Rovinski, 27, was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison for conspiring to support ISIS and conspiring to commit an act of terrorism. He will receive credit for time served behind bars since his arrest in June 2015.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann acknowledged in court that Rovinski differed from other federal terror subjects in that he has publicly renounced ISIS and was willing to cooperate with federal investigators, including testifying for three days against his co-conspirator David Wright.

Siegmann said Rovinski never complained nor wavered in his decision to cooperate during long prep sessions for his testimony, even as threats were made to kill him and his family and to behead his cat.

Rovinski, Wright and Wright’s uncle Usaamah Rahim all plotted to behead conservative blogger Pamela Geller back in 2015, after ISIS (also known as ISIL or the Islamic State Group) issued a decree urging members to kill her over a cartoon contest of the Prophet Muhammad. The plot was never carried out.

“I’m striving to be a new man,” Rovinski said in court Wednesday. “I accept responsibility for my actions.” He said his crimes, for which he pleaded guilty in 2016, were full of “animus” and “evil.”

Rovinski also said he hopes to be a productive member of society upon his release, aiming to do charity work to help the poor and veterans. “He feels really badly about having signed on to an ideology that is inimical to the military forces that protect the country,” defense attorney William Fick said outside court.

While the plea agreement called for a possible sentence of 15-22 years, prosecutors and the defense team jointly recommended the lower-end 15 year sentence on Wednesday.

“There’s no doubt that the defendant…posed a grave threat to the United States in June 2015,” Siegmann said. She said his diagnosis of cerebral palsy is “not an excuse, but part of why he was so swayed” by Wright.

Court sketch of David Wright in court.

Wright was sentenced to 28 years in prison on Tuesday after being convicted by a jury in October. He was painted as the mastermind of the beheading plot, manipulating Rovinski into agreeing to the plan. Rahim, the third co-conspirator, was killed by police back in 2015 after lunging at officers with a knife.

After his arrest, Rovinski wrote two letters in prison to Wright, continuing to express a desire to recruit people to ISIS. But prosecutors said he later denounced the ideology and has fully cooperated since.

In emotional letters to the court, Rovinski’s family members described him as someone who had trouble fitting in, in part because of his disability, and asserted he was “brainwashed” by Wright after Rovinski turned to Islam following some troubled teen years.

“They knew he was vulnerable and naive, and that he was a lost young man trying to fit in and find friends,” Rovinski’s mother Lori Rovinski wrote in a letter to the court, asking for leniency.

Family members declined to comment on the sentence after the hearing.

Rovinski’s Twitter photo from 2015

“If he hadn’t had the misfortune for encountering Mr. Wright online, this phase may have gone by unnoticed,” said Fick.

Still, Fick agreed the sentence as fair, while also calling it an “extremely, extremely severe punishment.”

Judge Bill Young recommended that Rovinski be placed at FCI Danbury in Connecticut, a low-security facility where he would participate in a skills program. He was also ordered to have no contact with Pamela Geller, and to be on supervised release for the rest of his life once he completes his sentence.

“These are most serious crimes,” Young said to Rovinski. “I’m glad you can acknowledge how fair the government has been.”

 

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Crime, Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

Police allege former chief slapped his wife, had pattern of abuse

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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Cranston’s former police chief allegedly hit his wife “with an open hand” before being arrested Thursday night and charged with two misdemeanor crimes.

Marco Palombo, 53, was booked and briefly placed in a jail cell at the very department where he was once chief Thursday night. He was released on personal recognizance and is due in court on Dec. 12 to face charges of domestic disorderly conduct and domestic simple assault.

According to the 11-page arrest report obtained by Eyewitness News, police were called to Palombo’s home by a family member who reported he was “out of control,” before the call disconnected.

Officers who responded to Palombo’s home were told he had struck his wife. “I observed the skin on her right cheek and neck to be covered in red irritation consistent with being slapped,” Sgt. Ryan Shore wrote in the report.

Shore also said Palombo’s wife reported the alleged assault was part of a pattern of abuse.

“[She] went on to state that this isn’t the first time that physical abuse had occurred and she had also had to have surgery on her thumb due to a prior incident which went unreported to police,” the report said.

Palombo was informed at his home that he would be arrested, and was “extremely reluctant and irritated by the decision,” according to police, and asked to speak to someone with a higher rank.

Palombo was arraigned by a justice of the peace at the Cranston Police Department Thursday night and released on $1,000 personal recognizance.

The office of attorney Peter DiBiase confirmed he is representing Palombo in the criminal case, but declined to comment on the charges.

Palombo served 27 years on the Cranston police force before resigning as chief in 2014 amid the parking ticket blitz scandal.

Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

Mired in controversy, East Greenwich town council votes to re-appoint town manager

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EAST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) — The East Greenwich Town Council voted 3-2 to re-appoint Gayle Corrigan as town manager Monday night, after a previous meeting to do so was cancelled because the room where it was held was over capacity.

The town has been inflamed by the debate over its leadership in recent months, culminating with a five-day trial in which a judge declared Corrigan’s original appointment null-and-void, and also voided a number of council decisions and Corrigan’s firing of James Perry, a prominent firefighter.

Judge Susan McGuirl said the town council “misled” the taxpayers when it violated the state’s Open Meetings Act, failing to properly notify residents of meetings.

At last week’s meeting, held in response to the court order, townspeople showed up in droves to oppose Corrigan’s re-appointment. When the meeting was cancelled, they moved down the road to air their grievances.

“I understand that the residents are angry,” council president Suzanne Cienki told Eyewitness News on Monday. “They should be angry. And we’ve got to do a better job of communicating to the residents exactly what is going on. We have been horrible at that.”

Cienki said she still supports re-appointing Corrigan as town manager, in part because she trusts Corrigan’s ability to turn around the “fiscal mismanagement” of the town. She said Corrigan likely wouldn’t stay in the post for a long time, and Cienki still wants to post the job and conduct a full search for a permanent town manager.

Councilman Mark Schwager, the lone Democrat on the council, said the best course of action would be for Corrigan to step aside, in order to restore public trust in government.

“She has become a lightning rod for divisveness and disruption, and I don’t think she can be effective in this position,” Schwager said.

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Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

Hazmat incident at CCRI sends officer, civilian to hospital

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A Warwick police officer and a second person were taken to the hospital Thursday following a hazardous materials incident at CCRI’s Knight campus.

The incident took place at about 12:30 p.m. in the area of the athletic fields, which is currently closed off. A hazmat team and other emergency responders remain on scene.

City officials said the officer went to check on a homeless person and began to feel faint after coming into contact with an unknown substance. The officer was treated with Narcan at the scene and taken to the hospital, along with a civilian worker. Both are expected to be OK, according to officials.

Four additional police officers were treated on scene.

The school sent out an alert to students and staff, assuring there’s no threat to the community and noting that the campus’s Commonwealth Avenue entrance is closed.

Local News, News, West Bay

Cranston deputy fire chief returns to work amid assault case

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – Cranston’s deputy fire chief is back on the job even as he faces criminal charges tied to an alleged fight with a lieutenant.

Cranston spokesman Mark Schieldrop confirmed to Eyewitness News that Deputy Chief Paul Valletta has been taken off administrative leave, more than a month after the city placed him on paid leave following his arrest.

Further information on why Valletta was allowed to return to work was not immediately available.

Valletta – who is also the head of the city’s firefighters’ union, IAFF Local 1363, and an influential State House lobbyist – was arrested last month on misdemeanor charges of simple assault and disorderly conduct following an incident at fire station 6 that was reportedly captured on audio recording. He was placed on leave two days after the incident.

According to a police affidavit, Valletta and Lt. Scott Bergantino got into an argument about overtime, and Bergantino made a disparaging remark about Valletta’s mother.

The affidavit states Bergantino told police, “Deputy Chief Valletta approached him and pushed him up against the chalkboard, punched him in the head two times, and then threw him over a recliner and onto the floor.”

Chip Muller, an attorney representing Bergantino, said his client suffered a concussion in the alleged assault.

Valletta pleaded not guilty to the charges late last month and told Eyewitness News outside court, “I’m looking forward to the truth coming out, then I’ll be back to work doing what I love doing.”

According to the online court schedule, Valletta is due for a pretrial conference on Thursday.

Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

Man held without bail after alleged nursing home sex assault

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COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) – A Coventry man has been ordered held without bail after he was accused of sexually assaulting an elderly woman in a nursing home.

Francis Kinsey, 74, faced a judge Tuesday afternoon. The judge ordered him to undergo an evaluation to determine if he’s mentally competent to stand trial.

Coventry Police arrested Kinsey on Saturday after an employee at the Coventry Center Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation home reported witnessing him sexually assaulting an 80-year-old woman.

Kinsey, who police said was a resident at the nursing home, was charged with first degree sexual assault.

Police said Kinsey has also been awaiting trial for a 2012 child molestation case out of Charlestown.

Amy Kempe, spokesperson for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, said that case has been delayed while Kinsey has been in the nursing home with significant medical problems. He appeared in court Tuesday in a wheelchair and missing one of his legs.

“The safety of the patients and residents in our skilled nursing center is our number one priority,” said Jeanne Moore, a spokesperson for the Coventry Center. “When we receive a report like this from any source, be it patient, family or one of our employees, we investigate the allegation and report it to local law enforcement and the Department of Health as appropriate.”

Moore declined to comment on whether the center knew about Kinsey’s previous charges, or whether the center conducts any sort of background check before admitting patients.

Kathy Heren, the state’s long-term care ombudsman who advocates for the elderly, said she was notified about the alleged assault on Saturday. She called the case “very unusual,” and said the nursing home was not aware of the pending charges against Kinsey.

Heren said she often advises nursing homes on a case-by-case basis when a criminal offender is requesting to be admitted to the home. In most cases, she said, offenders live out their days in the homes without a problem.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said there are no state regulations about admitting criminals or alleged criminals into nursing homes.

Carolyn Medeiros, the executive director of the Alliance for Safe Communities, said she wants nursing homes to be able to place surveillance cameras in the rooms of residents. She pushed for a 2013 bill that would have allowed the cameras, with permission from the resident’s family. It did not pass after groups like the ACLU testified against it, citing privacy concerns.

“The worst case scenario is an 80-year-old woman facing something like this,” Medeiros said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “It’s just unthinkable.”

She also suggested housing sexual offenders–out on bail or convicted–in separate housing from the rest of the elderly population.

“I don’t believe he should’ve been put in a facility with innocent, elderly people,” she said. “Would you want your grandmother….or your mother subjected to this?”

Heren said there currently isn’t anywhere else for alleged criminals or convicted felons to go for nursing home care, but said she would support a separate dedicated facility for certain offenders to live out their days. She said she often deals with ACI inmates being released into nursing home care.

Heren also said she opposed the surveillance cameras, also known as “granny cams.” She said it’s difficult to make sure that a resident’s roommate is not recorded on the camera if they have chosen to opt out of the surveillance program, and she said residents may not agree with the decisions their families make for them regarding the cameras.

Kinsey is due back in court for a competency hearing on Oct. 31.

Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

Two years later, law keeping high-level sex offenders away from schools remains unenforceable

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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – It was mid-September when police put out a “Code Red” sex offender notification about a man living in a Cranston neighborhood who had been convicted of sexually assaulting two women. The 27-year-old is a “level 3” sex offender, which means he’s considered at high risk to reoffend.

That’s when the calls starting coming in to Cranston Police.

“The property directly abuts the preschool, so you can imagine the concern that’s there,” Colonel Michael Winquist said in an interview with Eyewitness News.

Neighbors questioned why the man had been allowed to register at that address when a school was so close by. A state law passed in 2015 should have stopped him from living within 1000 feet of a school.

“Obviously those laws are in effect to protect people in the neighborhood,” Winquist said. But his hands are tied, he explained, because of a legal battle over the law that has left it unenforceable for two years.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court back in 2015 with the help of the ACLU, on behalf of seven level 3 sex offenders. The lead plaintiff, John Freitas, has since died. But the remaining six have continued fighting the 1000-foot law, and a federal judge has put a restraining order on the law while the legal challenge is ongoing.

“Right now there’s nothing to stop someone from living immediately next to a school,” Winquist said.

The lawsuit claims offenders’ rights are violated by the 1000-foot residency requirement, forcing them to move from their homes even if they lived there prior to incarceration. In many cases, according to the suit, offenders are staying with family and would become homeless if they had to move.

The definition of “school” is also undefined in the 2015 law, leaving individual cities and towns to determine when a sex offender is in violation. The suit says the word “could be interpreted to include an adult dance school, a yoga studio, or a school for the culinary arts, cosmetology, or martial arts.”

“Nothing happened, no child was harmed that precipitated this law,” said Megan Smith, an outreach worker at the House of Hope, a nonprofit that helps people dealing with homelessness and housing issues.

She and other advocates mobilized after the 2015 law was passed, identifying and contacting more than 30 level 3 sex offenders across the state who lived within 1000 feet of a school and could potentially be forced to move.

“Had the 1000-foot law been implemented, it would have put 64% of the city of Providence off limits,” Smith said.

She says as it is, few landlords are willing to rent to sex offenders, and public housing authorities won’t accept them as applicants. Assuming sex offenders can find a market-rate apartment willing to house them, Smith say many can’t find high enough paying jobs to afford the rent.

Because of this problem, dozens of sex offenders in Rhode Island are homeless. Col. Winquist estimated 45 are currently living in Harrington Hall in Cranston, one of the few shelters that accepts them. Police regularly stop by the shelter to do compliance checks, but police and advocates agree that sex offenders will have better success reintegrating into society if they have permanent housing.

“By having someone have a permanent residence, statistics show they’re less likely to offend,” Winquist said.

Potentially compounding the problem could be a new law passed during a special session last week, limiting the number of registered sex offenders in a homeless shelter to 10% of the total population.

“If it is signed by the governor…it would make 40-50 people immediately street homeless” in the state, Smith said.

Numerous organizations including House of Hope, the ACLU, Crossroads, Amos House and the Roger Williams University School of Law have asked the governor to veto the bill.

A spokesperson for Gov. Gina Raimondo did not return a phone call or email Thursday asking whether the governor would sign it into law.

Meanwhile, the legal challenge over the 1000-foot residency requirement remains ongoing. The federal lawsuit is still in the discovery phase.

The attorney general’s office says the restraining order against the 1000-foot rule actually allows level 3  sex offenders to live closer to schools than lower risk offenders; the law keeping level 2 sex offenders 300 feet back is still in effect.

In the meantime, police are conducting sex offender notifications and patrolling areas where level 3 sex offenders live. Sex offenders are still held to strict registry requirements, and have to pass frequent compliance checks.

To check if a sex offender is living near you, you can visit the sex offender registry.

 

Crime, Local News, News, Top Video, West Bay

Cranston deputy fire chief arraigned in firehouse assault case

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The city of Cranston’s deputy fire chief faced a judge Tuesday on criminal charges tied to an alleged fight with a lieutenant that was captured on audio recording.

Paul Valletta, who’s also the head of the city’s firefighters’ union, IAFF Local 1363, was arraigned Tuesday on misdemeanor charges of simple assault and disorderly conduct.

“I’m looking forward to the truth coming out, then I’ll be back to work doing what I love doing,” Valletta said after leaving court. He walked away without commenting further.

According to a police affidavit obtained by Eyewitness News, Lt. Scott Bergantino and Valletta got into an argument on Sept. 9 at fire station 6, where firefighters had gathered to participate in a “Fill the Boot” drive. According to the complaint, Bergantino and Valletta began to argue about overtime, and Bergantino made a disparaging remark about Valletta’s mother.

The affidavit says Bergantino told police, “Deputy Chief Valletta approached him and pushed him up against the chalkboard, punched him in the head two times, and then threw him over a recliner and onto the floor.”

According to court documents, Bergantino recorded audio of the altercation and turned it over to police. Multiple other firefighters also witnessed the altercation.

Both Valletta and Bergantino were placed on paid leave two days after the incident, according to Cranston Mayor Allan Fung’s spokesperson Mark Schieldrop. He said Mayor Fung was notified of the altercation one day after it happened, and initiated an internal investigation.

Chip Muller, an attorney representing Bergantino, said Tuesday that his client suffered a concussion in the alleged assault.

Muller said Bergantino was “concerned for his safety” when it comes to returning to work, in part because of a “rift” that has emerged at the fire department in light of the incident.

“We hope the prosecutors and the courts take the assault charge seriously,” Muller said. “It’s bad enough for a citizen to do that to another human being, but to have a superior do that to another person at work is just outrageous.”

Muller also said Bergantino plans to file a union grievance about the overtime issue.

The vice president of the firefighters’ union on Tuesday said Valletta is still the union’s president, but has recused himself from the grievance committee until the case is resolved.

Valletta entered a not guilty plea and is due back in court on October 26.

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