Wyatt director defends fee for jail expansion

CENTRAL FALLS — The current executive director of the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility was paid nearly $1 million to oversee the $48-million expansion of the jail while he was also collecting an annual fee for other consulting work at the detention center for federal immigrant detainees and prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing.

Anthony Ventetuolo Jr. confirmed this week that he and his firm, Avcorr Management LLC, of Warwick, was paid $961,671 for the second job over a three-year period that ended in October 2007. The payment represented 2 percent of the project’s cost, a fee structure that Ventetuolo said is customary for large capital construction projects.

Ventetuolo had no competition for the job, which more than doubled the number of beds at the jail. Albert M. Romanowicz, then chairman of the Central Falls Detention Facility Corp., the municipal agency that owns Wyatt, approved on Feb. 23, 2004, an amendment to the Avcorr contract to provide correctional consulting services that also designated Avcorr and Ventetuolo to serve as “project representative” for the three year addition project at the same time.

In a phone interview this week, Romanowicz said that Ventetuolo’s experience in corrections and his knowledge of the Wyatt jail made him the perfect choice for the job.

Romanowicz, who resigned as board chairman last month, remains aggravated that city officials have in the last few weeks questioned Ventetuolo, his salary and the way he has run the jail since he became executive director in August 2007.

“He’s got a helluva lot more integrity than the people going after him,” he said.

During the time Ventetuolo and his firm served as project representative or construction manager, Avcorr also collected between $133,863 and $157,000 annually for correctional consulting services there, monitoring Cornell Corrections, the large Texas corrections company that was the management services contractor hired to run Wyatt until mid-2007.

Ventetuolo provided The Journal with a project management fee chart from Iowa State University that shows administrators of multimillion-dollar capital projects are paid anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of the total cost.

“It varies depending on a lot of issues and a lot of concerns,” Ventetuolo said. “Everyone wants to look at a number and interpret it a certain way. Frankly, the 2 percent is on the low end.”

The issue of Ventetuolo’s construction project representative role has been a hot topic in the city for several weeks. At two recent meetings of the Detention Facility Corp. board, Bruce Corrigan, the new vice chairman, has repeatedly pressed Ventetuolo for a “prospectus” that includes the details of the construction project manager’s fee.

Over the past month, Mayor Charles D. Moreau and members of the detention center board have called into question Ventetuolo’s salary as chief executive officer, his scheduled bonus and other payments to consultants last year in the wake of the death in August of a federal detainee being held at Wyatt.

The five-member board, with four new members since the beginning of the year, has suspended all of the consulting contracts — except Avcorr’s.

Ventetuolo and Avcorr were paid $230,575 and Ventetuolo was slated to receive an “incentive” bonus of $164,382 for 2008. That would bring his total income for last year to $407,961.

Moreau and the board members have toned down the rhetoric in recent weeks after corrections officers and staff voiced concerns that the turmoil surrounding the jail — the death of an immigrant detainee, multiple investigations and talk of a possible sale — was affecting their morale.

Yesterday, Daniel Cooney, who recently replaced Romanowicz as board chairman, was stunned to learn of the $961,000 project manager fee paid to Ventetuolo and his firm.

“It just kind of shakes me at my roots if you know what I mean,” he said. “I don’t know if there is anything wrong, but it sure feels wrong. Somebody in Central Falls is making $1 million?”

Two months ago, officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement abruptly removed 153 immigrant detainees from Wyatt and sent them to jails across the nation. Last month, ICE announced that it had terminated its contract to send any immigrants to the detention center. The announcement came the same day that the agency issued a report that condemned the way several corrections officers and staff handled Hiu Lui “Jason” Ng, the Chinese national who died in custody last summer.

Since the detainees were transferred, the jail, which is paid a per diem for each prisoner by the federal government, has been losing about $100,000 a week and the city is no longer collecting $52,000 per month as its share of detention center revenue.

Ventetuolo defended his construction project management fee and spoke with pride about the $48-million expansion project . As project manager, Ventetuolo said he was responsible for securing private financing to pay for the construction and refinancing of the debt service associated with the $38 million in bonds secured to build the original jail in the early 1990s.

He said the investors, who hold bonds of varying terms, are paid “a blended rate,” of 5.7 percent annually.

Other duties, he said, included property acquisition, surveys, reports, appraisals and project documentation. He also said that he was responsible for coordinating teams of architects and engineers who worked on the project and he was the liaison with the city and state on all regulatory and environmental issues.

Ventetuolo said that he developed the “contractor selection process,” that led to the selection of O. Ahlborg & Sons Inc., of Cranston, as the general contractor of the jail expansion.

Ventetuolo said that he served on the selection board with a representative from Cornell Correction, a member of the detention board and several other professionals with experience in the construction industry.

In the end, the finalists for the project contractor were Ahlborg and Suffolk Construction, of Massachusetts. He said that Ahlborg’s bid was about $5 million less than Suffolk’s bid. The detention board hired Ahlborg and Ventetuolo notified the firm’s president, Eric Ahlborg, in writing.

The one-page letter was typed on Avcorr stationery.

Ventetuolo said he was eminentlyqualified for the position of construction project manager. He said that he has been involved in the corrections industry for 35 years and he played a role in the development of several prisons on the grounds of the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston as well as the construction of the original 350-bed Wyatt jail, which opened in 1993.

He said the project was completed on time and that the bondholders were pleased with the expansion. One of them, he said, called it “a little miracle.”

“They were thrilled and they are still thrilled with the outcome,” he said. “By any measure of success, this was a complete success. It’s an economic generator of major proportions.”

source: http://www.projo.com/news/content/WYATT_CONSTRUCTION_PROJECT_02-26-09_0ADDVUB_v34.3a186d8.html

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