SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A resident who gained notoriety for tangling with South Kingstown’s School Committee over the summer has accused the Town Council president of secretly blocking criminal prosecution of former superintendent Linda Savastano.
Nicole Solas alleged in public comment at Monday’s council meeting that Abel Collins privately told a state police detective that the town would not pursue charges against Savastano over her role in the production of a controversial AFL-CIO mailer promoting passage of a school facilities bond in May.
Collins denied the allegation by Solas in open forum, and at several points asked Solas to leave the lectern after her speaking time had expired.
Police Chief Joel Ewing-Chow, who was at the meeting, stood by the door as she gathered her belongings and left council chambers.
Solas said Savastano, who resigned in June, should face prosecution because she “wiped clean a computer owned by the town and an email domain owned by the town.”
“(Collins) had a secret conversation saying he would not cooperate as a victim if charges were brought against Linda Savastano on committing computer crime,” Solas said.
She also asserted that police have “enough evidence” to file charges in the matter and that she gave evidence to state police that the superintendent “wiped her computer during the investigation to cover up the crime.”
Before her departure, Savastano admitted that she had given a list of student names to a member of a local group supporting passage of the proposed $85 million facilities bond. That person, Stacey Bodziony, passed the names list to a marketing firm which ultimately produced the mailers that went to local parents in late April.
Collins opted with Councilors Jess Rose and Deborah Bergner to discuss the claims by Solas in open session, calling them “ridiculous.”
He said a state police detective had contacted himself and Solicitor Michael Ursillo after the release of the council’s report into the mailer controversy.
“He asked me several questions, I simply answered,” Ursillo said. “(The detective) said that he was checking to see if any statutes were violated.”
Ursillo told the detective to inform the town if police were to find that a criminal statute had been violated.
“Please, let me know,” Ursillo said. “I have not heard from him since, and that was about three weeks ago.”
Collins said the detective called him at about the same time. Collins reported that the council had planned to meet to discuss the report and that he would follow up with him.
“I spoke to him today and said there was no follow-up action the council had taken,” Collins said. “That was really the sum of my conversation with him. I think I was accurate in that.”
Rose said she felt blindsided by the information and said it would have been appropriate for the rest of the council to know if state police had contacted the town.
“The goal really was transparency for me, and I feel like this was not transparent,” she said. “I had no idea anyone from the council or the town had spoken with state police at all.”
Collins said he notified Ursillo when the detective initially contacted him. Ursillo advised him to tell the detective of any council action after the body reviewed the report.
“And that’s what I did,” he said.
Councilor Deborah Kelso said it’s not up to the council or any member to decide if a person should face criminal charges.
“If Abel said to the state police, ‘We’re not going to file any charges,’ the state police don’t act on what Abel Collins or what any member of this council says,” she said. “If the state police felt like there was something criminal, they would pursue that.”
Also last week, the town amended the report into the mailer to include recently discovered email from Savastano to Bodziony on April 10.
The email chain includes a request from Brad Dufault of Checkmate Consulting to Bodziony for an original copy of a photo. Bodziony subsequently requested the same photo from Savastano. Savastano fulfilled that request and shared the photo, according to the report.
The report goes on to say that an attachment to one of the emails is a robotics classroom picture that was included on the AFL-CIO mailer.
Savastano admitted that she subsequently provided the information to Bodziony by email. However, the investigation did not reveal the email account used to send the mailer information. A search of Savastano’s school department email did not show that the account was used by Savastano to transmit the information.