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A free lunch (and croissant) in Philly cost this former Rhode Island official $5K

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission found probable cause David Patten violated the state's Code of Ethics during a tour of the Bok building last year.

The front entrance of the Bok building, where former Rhode Island officials David Patten and James Thorsen visited during their trip to Philadelphia.
The front entrance of the Bok building, where former Rhode Island officials David Patten and James Thorsen visited during their trip to Philadelphia.Read moreTyger Williams / Staff Photographer

A former Rhode Island official who requested “the best croissant in Philadelphia” and a private lunch at Irwin’s during a state business trip to the Bok building last year is now eating humble pie after agreeing to pay $5,000 in fines this week to settle a complaint that resulted from the trip.

A 28-page investigative report by the Rhode Island Ethics Commission found probable cause for David Patten, former director of the state’s property management division, having violated the Rhode Island Code of Ethics and state law by soliciting and accepting gifts — including the lunch and croissant — during the March 2023 trip.

Additional behavior by Patten during his time in Philly, including racist and sexist remarks made to people he met here, was condemned by the commission but did not result in a penalty.

“Everyone agrees that the things that were said were completely wrong and inappropriate and the Ethics Commission agrees with that too, but our jurisdiction is limited to conflicts of interest,” said Jason Gramitt, the commission’s executive director and chief prosecutor.

Patten’s lawyer, Michael Lynch, released a lengthy statement on his client’s behalf, saying Patten’s actions stemmed from “an acute stress event and medical crisis” resulting from the death of loved ones and that he “deeply regrets” what happened.

“As Mr. Patten noted just over a year ago when this matter arose — he was not going to run and hide,” Lynch said.

Following a closed-door hearing Tuesday before the commission, Patten, who resigned last June, agreed to pay $3,000 for violating the ethics code by accepting gifts worth more than $25, and $2,000 for violating a state law by accepting goods and services valued at more than $100, according to a copy of the informal resolution and settlement.

The commission also found probable cause that James Thorsen, former director of administration for Rhode Island who was Patten’s boss and accompanied him on the trip, had violated the ethics code and state law too, according to a separate investigative report. But Thorsen, who resigned last April reportedly to take up a job with the U.S. Treasury Department, did not agree to a settlement, and instead will head to an administrative hearing before the commission at a yet-to-be determined date, Gramitt said.

The former officials came to Philly last year to tour the Bok building and meet with Scout Ltd., the team behind it, about doing a similar project at the Cranston Street Armory in Providence.

Following that meeting, the Scout team wrote an email detailing how they and their tenants had been through hell and Bok during the bizarre and unprofessional visit by Patten and Thorsen. That email landed on the governor’s desk and the Providence Journal and Rhode Island TV station WPRI fought to make it public last year.

According to the email, prior to arriving in Philadelphia, Patten texted Lindsey Scannapieco, managing partner at Scout: “Please have fresh coffee (with milk and sugar) and the best croissant in Philadelphia ready for me upon arrival. Director Thorsen likes Diet Coke. Have a cold six pack waiting on the table in your conference room. You have three hours to convince us to give you $55M.”

He followed up his demands with a winky-face emoji.

During the tour Patten made a sexual advance at Scannapieco (“If I knew your husband wasn’t going to be here, I would have come last night”), questioned a doctor about his identity (“You’ve got some ethnicity in you?”), and announced he really hated China (”No offense, hun,” he said to an Asian American woman afterward), according to the email.

Patten also asked for and received free items from vendors at the Bok — including vegan cheese, handblown glass, and sneakers — and requested a private lunch for him and Thorsen at Irwin’s, which is only open for dinner. According to the Ethics Commission’s report, since the restaurant was not supposed to be open, head chef Michael Ferreri both prepared and served the meal.

No bill was created, offered, or requested by Thorsen or Patten. Thorsen only asked for a bill days later, after learning about the email the Scout team sent (and then, only paid his half of the $524.60 check), according to the report.

The Scout team said in their email Thorsen witnessed Patten’s actions and did nothing, despite being asked to intervene. When Patten asked if he had to declare the free items, Thorsen told him it was “de minimis,” or low enough in value it didn’t violate ethics rules, the email said.

According to the commission’s report, Thorsen “did not chastise him for his inappropriate comments or improper solicitations of gifts.”

The report shines additional light on Patten’s behavior and Thorsen’s alleged failure to report it.

The night before their Philadelphia trip, both officials attended a dinner with colleagues at a Providence restaurant, during which Patten’s behavior was so “unprofessional and offensive” that several junior employees reported it to their supervisor the next day, the report said. One employee even texted Thorsen and said she believed Patten may be having a “manic episode,” according to the report, but their trip to Philly went on as planned anyway.

On Tuesday, Thorsen told journalists outside of the closed-door hearing in Providence he believes he behaved responsibly.

“If I thought I did wrong, I wouldn’t be here right now. It would’ve been settled a long time ago,” he said, according to the Providence Journal.

Lynch, in his statement on behalf of his client, said Patten apologizes to the people of Rhode Island and to those he met in Philadelphia who were “unfortunately, recipients of comments that resulted from Mr. Patten suffering this medical event.”

The $5,000 in fines will go Rhode Island’s general treasury fund and not to the good people of Philadelphia, according to Gramitt.