Rhode Island Investigates ‘Disturbing’ Behavior on Official Trip

It presented a golden opportunity for a Philadelphia developer, who had secured a $55 million project contract in Providence, R.I., to showcase its capabilities. However, prior to the visit of two Rhode Island state officials to inspect the company’s redevelopment of a building, one of the officials made some remarkably unconventional requests.

“Please have fresh coffee (with milk and sugar) and the best croissant in Philadelphia ready for me upon arrival,” the official, David Patten, the director of the Rhode Island Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, wrote in a text message to officials at the firm, Scout, that he sent at midnight before the tour, the developer later recounted in an email.

“Director Thorsen likes Diet Coke,” Mr. Patten added, referring to his colleague James E. Thorsen, who was director of the Rhode Island Department of Administration. “Have a cold six pack waiting on the table in your conference room. You have three hours to convince us to give you $55M.”

The text message foreshadowed what was to come: “a series of bizarre, offensive and unprofessional actions” by Mr. Patten that stunned the developer and infuriated local business owners, the email from Scout states.

The Rhode Island governor’s office said in a statement that it had asked the state police and state human resources officials to conduct investigations connected to the tour, but did not provide further details.

The episode unfolded on March 10, when Scout welcomed the two Rhode Island officials to the Bok Building, a former vocational high school in Philadelphia that the firm had converted into a home for more than 200 businesses, artists and nonprofits.

The officials arrived as Scout was seeking state funding from Rhode Island for a contract it had won to redevelop a state-owned former armory in Providence, at a cost of $55 million.

The email detailing the visit was signed by Scout’s managing partner, Lindsey Scannapieco, and another Scout executive, and was sent on March 12 to the firm’s lobbyist in Rhode Island, who forwarded it to the Rhode Island governor’s chief of staff.

The email was released on Thursday after Rhode Island’s attorney general ordered the administration of Gov. Daniel McKee to comply with a public records request by The Providence Journal and WPRI, a Providence news station.

According to the email, Mr. Patten told Ms. Scannapieco as they were getting coffee in the morning, “If I knew your husband wasn’t going to be here, I would have come last night.”

As he toured the Bok Building, Mr. Patten insisted on taking items — including vegan cheese and a pair of sneakers — from tenants, making them “very uncomfortable,” the email states.

The email claims that Mr. Patten insisted on lunch at Irwin’s, a Sicilian restaurant in the building that Bon Appétit magazine named one of the 10 best new restaurants in America in 2022, even after he was told that it was not open for lunch.

“Well, you can call in a favor if you want $55 million in funding,” Mr. Patten told Ms. Scannapieco, according to the email. Scout then arranged for a “private lunch” at Irwin’s, “which has never happened in the history of the project,” according to the email.

Mr. Patten went on medical leave on March 13, and he is now on administrative leave, according to Laura Hart, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Administration.

Mr. Thorsen submitted his resignation in February, before the tour, and it took effect April 30, Ms. Hart said. The Rhode Island governor’s office said in a statement that Mr. Thorsen had gone to work for the U.S. Treasury Department. A Treasury Department spokesman said that Mr. Thorsen’s work as a part-time contractor there had been suspended, pending an internal review.

The email from Scout did not accuse Mr. Thorsen of making offensive comments but said that he had allowed Mr. Patten’s “behavior to continue to happen even after we pulled him aside to make note that this needed to stop.”

According to the email, when Mr. Patten was given a pair of sneakers from Diadora, a sportswear company in the Bok Building, he said he hoped that they were not made in China “because I really hate China.”

Mr. Patten then turned to an Asian American woman in the room and said, “No offense, hon,” the email from Scout states.

At a health clinic in the building, Mr. Patten pressed a doctor to state his ethnic background and last name, the email states. When the doctor said he was Jewish, Mr. Patten said: “Mazel tov,” according to the email.

In a statement issued after he released the email, Governor McKee said: “The allegations regarding Mr. Patten’s behavior, if true, are disturbing, unacceptable and unfitting of anyone, especially an employee representing the state and who expects to be employed by the state.”

Michael P. Lynch, a lawyer for Mr. Patten, said that his client was “certainly embarrassed and humiliated, not just for himself and the impact that this has had on his family, but on those who placed so much trust in him as director.”

Mr. Lynch said that Mr. Patten’s behavior was the result of “an acute stress event” that had built up over the last three years after the death of his sister, father-in-law and best friend.

“He had not taken care of himself and sought to deal with stressors through work,” Mr. Lynch said. He added that while Mr. Patten was “not hiding” from his actions, “the comments and statements that were described in that email were just not in, or part of, his fiber.”

Mr. Thorsen said in a statement released by his lawyer that he was aware that Mr. Patten was “behaving strangely” and was not “representing the state in an appropriate or positive way.”

After he flew back to Providence, Mr. Thorsen said, he went directly to a meeting that he had arranged with the state’s human resources office to discuss Mr. Patten’s conduct. He said he spoke later to the state police.

Mr. Thorsen said that he had not asked Scout for preferential treatment and had not advised anyone that the way in which Scout treated him would have any effect on the awarding of state funding for the armory project in Providence.

Regarding the lunch at Irwin’s, Mr. Thorsen said that he had not asked about it beforehand and that he paid for the meal after he learned that the restaurant had opened early for his visit.

“Of greatest importance, I did not make any remark or make any statement to any person that was racially or sexually insensitive or inappropriate,” Mr. Thorsen said. “I do not engage in that type of conduct or speech.”

The office of Gov. Dan McKee of Rhode Island said that it had asked the state police and state human resources officials to investigate a visit to Philadelphia by two state officials.Credit…Stew Milne/Associated Press

The email from Scout indicates that Ms. Scannapieco and her colleagues were “disgusted” by Mr. Patten’s behavior.

“We do not want to work with people who support casual racism and sexism and are shocked at how this reflects on the State of Rhode Island and the lack of competence there,” the email states.

Ms. Scannapieco said in an email on Tuesday that Scout was solely focused on its plan to redevelop the former armory in Providence. The project, which she said could create 400 jobs, still needs $55 million in funding.

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