Politics of a Prison
The Wyatt Detention Center has generated millions of dollars for the city of Central Falls since it opened in 1993. But that money dried up a year and a half ago when a prisoner died in custody and the feds pulled some of their inmates. That led to Mayor Charles Moreau stepping in and shaking up management at a facility that had previously had a stellar track record. But have those moves been in the best interest of the taxpayers? This week Jim Hummel takes a closer look at how politics have infiltrated the prison.
Click HERE to see the letter from AG Lynch to Wyatt Detention Center (WDC)
Click HERE to see the letter from WDC to AG Lynch
Click HERE to see the letter from WDC to Congressman Kennedy
Click HERE to see the second letter from WDC to Congressman Kennedy
Hummel: ``As a state police investigation continues to develop here at City Hall, we take a look down the road this week at the Wyatt Detention Facility and how politics may have cost the city's taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for a community that is now talking about the possibility of bankruptcy.''
Since 1993, federal prisoners housed at the Donald Wyatt Detention Center have helped pump millions of dollars into the city of Central Falls. That all changed in 2008, when a Chinese immigrant named Jason Ng died in the prison's custody - prompting the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to pull out all of its prisoners.
Moreau: ``Until the population hits 600 the city doesn't get anything. And we've been below 600.''
Mayor Charles Moreau says that when I.C.E. pulled out - the city's cut of more than half a million dollars a year went with it. The NG case was clearly a black eye. But up until then the Wyatt was fully accredited and annually had gotten superior marks for the way it was managed - including the year Ng died.
``That was a convenient lever to just basically move people out.''
Al Romanowicz was a member of the prison's board of directors for more than a decade, including five as chairman - before being forced out by Mayor Moreau. Romanowicz said the Teamsters had been trying to unionize the correctional guards long before Ng died. He believes Moreau - under pressure for political backing - supported the effort. The fallout from Ng's death gave the mayor - who appoints the board of directors - an excuse to shake things up.
Hummel: ``Is there supposed to be an insulation from politics?''
Romanowicz: ``Exactly, that was the whole point.''
Hummel: ``And was it that way for awhile?''
Romanowicz: ``It was, it was completely that way.''
Hummel: ``And did that begin to change?''
Romanowicz: ``It did.''
Months before Ng died, both Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Attorney General Patrick Lynch contacted federal authorities that oversee the Wyatt, alleging unspecified corruption and assaults at the prison. But they never brought those concerns directly to Wyatt officials at the time.
Romanowicz: ``We never got any communication from Patrick Kennedy.''
Hummel: ``Did you find that odd?''
Romanowicz: ``Yeah, I did, since he's going directly to our customers. Usually if someone's going to make an allegation you let management and the board know first, so we can take a look at it.''
Romanowicz believes it was a concerted effort to discredit and oust the Wyatt's executive director, Anthony Ventetuolo, and pave the way for new management - brought in by Moreau - that would be more receptive to a union.
Hummel: ``To this day have you ever gotten a response from Kennedy's office?''
Romanowicz: ``No, nothing.''
In early 2008 Ventetuolo sent a blistering letter - obtained by the Hummel Report - to Patrick Lynch. In it, he invites Lynch to visit the Wyatt and personally observe the ``abusive activities'' and ``environment of wrongdoing'' the attorney general claimed were taking place.
Romanowicz: ``We told Tony (Ventetuolo), `Okay let's send a letter,' because some of this stuff, we felt was bordering on extortion, and we sent a letter back to Patrick Lynch and told him just that.''
After that, the board heard nothing from either Lynch or Kennedy and the matter was dropped.
After Ng died and I.C.E. had pulled out its prisoners, Ventetuolo went to Washington to meet in person with the congressional delegation, but got nowhere. Senator Jack Reed never showed up for a scheduled meeting in D.C. and his office never responded to repeated follow up requests by Ventetuolo.
Hummel: ``Do you have any doubt that if Jack Reed, or Sheldon Whitehouse picked up the phone, or Patrick Kennedy or Jim Langevin, if they called I.C.E. and put the pressure on they could have gotten those prisoners back?''
Romanowicz: ``Exactly. I think that would have been the result of coming back.''
So we caught up with Senator Reed this week to get his take on the Wyatt - and the former board chairman's assertion of union influence.
Hummel" ``And the word in Central Falls is - and I wanted to get your reaction to this - the theory was, they wanted to get a union in there and if we get the administration out we can get a union in and the congressional delegation played along with that. What's your reaction to that?
Reed: ``That is something that I have no specific knowledge of.''
Hummel: ``Have you heard that?''
Reed: ``No. Our knowledge basically what was reported to us by the authorities in charge.''
Romanowicz: ``They basically vilified the facility. And that's what happens when politics gets involved in something like that.''
Hummel: ``Do you think there was an influence on them from somewhere? Where does it come from?''
Romanowicz: ``Yes, personal opinion, I still think it comes from the union.''
We spoke with Mayor Moreau several months ago before our series of stories launched a state police investigation into his administration. Even though the Wyatt had never produced more than $600,000 for the city in any one year, the mayor had high hopes for the revenue it would bring to his city this year.
Moreau: ``We have them budgeted this year for $1.2 million. We came up with that number after consulting with the warden and chief financial officer here.''
But sources tell The Hummel Report, the figure was manufactured by Moreau - who announced late last month the city is considering filing for bankruptcy. Romanowicz says Moreau's efforts to shake up management and pave the way for a union have backfired - costing the city more than three quarters of a million dollars over the past year and a half.
Romanowicz: ``Instead of looking at the stinking solution in terms of what's best for the city, everybody else involved, it's the politics.''
In Central Falls, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.