Cote's ethics complaint rekindles questions over alleged sick pay scheme

Posted 12/17/20

By JOHN HOWELL There's nothing to show for the long hours city activist Rob Cote put into obtaining and reviewing hundreds of Fire Department records, which triggered an FBI investigation and prompted the City Council to contract the firm of Yarlas,

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Cote's ethics complaint rekindles questions over alleged sick pay scheme


There’s nothing to show for the long hours city activist Rob Cote put into obtaining and reviewing hundreds of Fire Department records, which triggered an FBI investigation and prompted the City Council to contract the firm of Yarlas, Kaplan, Santilli, Moran (YKSM) to likewise investigate.

While Cote, City Councilman Steve Merolla and other officials were interviewed by the FBI, the agency will neither confirm nor deny its involvement. That’s gone nowhere as of yet. What’s more, after learning that YKSM had completed its investigation, Merolla disclosed this fall there is no report.

Cote was outraged. He said he handed over about 3,000 documents to the FBI and YKSM – and yet YKSM, which was paid $225,000, has not produced a single “scrap of paper.”

Now the story has taken another twist with the R.I. Ethics Commission’s unanimous vote to investigate Cote’s claim that Merolla violated the code of ethics by voting to award the $225,000 contract to YKSM. Cote contends Merolla favored the YKSM bid over others because one of its principals, Tom Lisi, was his personal business accountant as well as his campaign finance treasurer.

Following the filing of his complaint, Cote made it clear to the Beacon he is not accusing Merolla of financially benefiting from the award to YKSM, which has since merged with Marcum, LLP. Rather, it is the fact that the contract went to YKSM, Lisi’s firm, and Merolla did not reveal his affiliation to Lisi at the time of the contract award or later. At the time of the award in the fall of 2017, Joseph Solomon was City Council president and along with Merolla and Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur pushed for the review of Fire Department records based on the Cote’s analysis of Fire Department pay records, contracts and related documents.

On Tuesday in an extended telephone interview, Cote painted a picture of a scheme that bilked taxpayers of almost $1 million in sick pay and overtime. Cote rattled off dates of meetings, who was in attendance and what was said. Never, he claimed, did Merolla disclose his relationship with Lisi.

Cote said he met with YKSM on Feb. 19, 2017, for three hours and on eight other occasions thereafter to review his work. He said the city paid YKSM $225 an hour for him to educate them on what was happening.

Cote said four schemes were being used by firefighters. He listed the budgeting of $326,000 for medical examinations, of which only a small portion was used with the rest going for overtime pay that was not budgeted; a reported give-back by the union of two paid holidays that never happened and was later refunded for a double payment; a change in the rate at which unused vacation time is paid that was not negotiated; and unused sick time payments totaling $437,500.

Cote pointed out that YKSM was also auditing the Department of Public Works for the alleged disappearance of supplies.

Merolla did not return a call this week, but in an interview after Cote filed the complaint, he acknowledged that YKSM did not prepare a formal report. However, he pointed out the investigation into the Fire Department was one task of others taken on by the firm, including input on a five-year projection of city finances and financial advice to the City Council.

As for the YKSM contract, Merolla said, “there’s no financial gain to me at all.” Referring to Lisi, he said it is difficult in Rhode Island not to know people. “We all have relationships.”

Merolla called the investigation into the Fire Department and Cote’s subsequent ethics complaint “very frustrating. I don’t know how the finger gets pointed at me.”

He argues if Mayor Solomon believed firefighters were gaming the system to gain overtime and sick pay, as Cote said his analysis of the records shows, he could have called on city, state and federal law enforcement and sought to prosecute the case.

He characterizes the ethics complaint “as sour grapes” because after all the work Cote put into his investigation, “nobody wants to prosecute that.”

Asked why he thought nothing happened after the investigation done by the FBI, Homeland Security, the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Justice, Cote said he was told by two investigators that while they had a strong case with “national implications,” the U.S. Attorney was “politically pressured” not to prosecute the case.

As for his ethics complaint, Cote contends Merolla should have disclosed his relationship with Lisi and a report of YKSM’s findings should have been released.

Cote, complaint


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  • MikkeyDee

    How many fire fighters / police retire without disability?

    Thursday, December 17, 2020 Report this

  • TheDeal

    Cote likes to spin numbers and accuse criminality against those he opposes to inflate his ego and need for self importance. Cote was told by the FBI that he has a strong case with national implications? “I’ll take things that never happened for 600, Alex...” Yeah, the local firemen are in tight with the US Attorney. Laughable. What happened is Cote wasted a lot of people’s time. They gave him the benefit of the doubt and quickly found that Cote’s wild claims were untrue. Now Merolla, who hates firemen as much as Cote figured ooooh let’s run with this! We’ll make a big spectacle! Let’s waste taxpayers money and pay a buddy of mine to “conduct a study” Lo and behold, the taxpayers wrote the check and Merolla’s pal never produces a study. And to think, this all started with these very people accusing the firemen of being crooks... Cote might be on to something with his Merolla accusations but if as he says, the FBI, Homeland Security, Postal Inspectors and the US Attorneys Office all looked at his firefighter accusations and chose not to act, it’s clear that Cote blew a lot of smoke up some bum bums but there was in fact, no fire.

    Monday, December 21, 2020 Report this

  • JamesBruder

    Politically pressured????? This jackass Cote is still spouting lies. Show your proof Rob, without it your are just another lying loser. The FBI still never contacted ANYONE in the fire dept. To the beacon, why continue to beat a dead horse with zero evidence.

    Wednesday, December 23, 2020 Report this