Former DOA director responds to Philadelphia trip allegations
James Thorsen says he reported to HR that his colleague ‘was behaving strangely’ on Bok tour
The Bok building, built in 1936 as a trade school spanning a full city block in South Philadelphia, is now home to 250 businesses, artists, makers, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits. (Photo by Ed Newton)
The state’s former Department of Administration director denies seeking any preferential treatment during a March business trip to Philadelphia that has sparked an investigation by the Rhode Island State Police.
Executives of Scout Ltd., a Philadelphia-based company vying to redevelop the Cranston Street Armory in Providence, sent an email to Gov. Dan McKee’s office alleging sexist comments made by former DOA Director James Thorsen and David Patten, the state’s director of division of capital asset management and maintenance.
The two were touring Bok — a former vocational school located in South Philadelphia that Scout Ltd. redeveloped into a home for over 250 tenants, including artists, nonprofits and small businesses — before moving forward with plans to renovate the Cranston Street Armory.
Thorsen left his post at the DOA in April and currently works for the U.S. Treasury Department. Patten is on administrative leave.
“I did not make any remark or make any statement to any person that was racially or sexually insensitive or inappropriate,” Thorsen said in a statement released Wednesday by his attorney. “I do not engage in that type of speech or conduct.”CCF_000009
Thorsen added he was aware Patten “was behaving strangely during this trip” and reported it to his department’s human resources department.
“This presented a dilemma on how to complete the meeting, but because of time constraints, I endeavored to do so,” Thorsen said.
According to the email from Everett Abitbol, director of hospitality and development at Scout Ltd., Patten repeatedly asked the Bok tenants he met for something to take home with him, including sneakers.
“At each instance of taking something, he turned to Thorsen and said something to the extent of “I don’t have to declare this right?” Abitbol wrote to Gov. Dan McKee’s office on March 12.
McKee tried to keep the email secret for three months before releasing it on June 8, one day after Attorney General Peter F. Neronha ordered its release after WPRI-TV and the Providence Journal appealed McKee’s refusal under the state’s Access to Public Records Act.
In his statement, Thorsen said, “I advised the Director of the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance that an item he obtained was de minimis was when I saw him holding a shoe box that he advised me was a sneaker box that had been given to him by one of Bok’s vendors/tenants during the tour.”
“When I later learned that the box contained sneakers, I directed him to return them immediately,” Thorsen continued. “On Monday, March 13th, the Director advised me that the sneakers had been returned via Federal Express.”
Abitbol’s email claimed the Rhode Island officials asked to have lunch at a Michelin-star restaurant which only served dinner.
Thorsen’s response: “I sat down to eat with two Scout Ltd. representatives at around 11 A.M. There were no other diners in the restaurant at that time. Because it was so early, I did not attach significance to that observation. Once I learned what had occurred regarding the early opening of the restaurant, I sent an email to Scout Ltd. advising that I wanted to pay for the meal.”
Thorsen said he forwarded Scout Ltd. bankfunds from his personal account to pay.
“The allegations made in this matter are very serious, Thorsen said. “I did not engage in the conduct described. Nor would I ever condone such conduct.”
After the trip, Abitbol wrote to the governor’s office “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.”
Kevin Bristow, Thorsen’s attorney, said in an email Wednesday “Jim will not be making any further comment until the investigation and other proceedings related to this matter are fully resolved.”
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