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Rhode Island house elects new speaker following probe into former leader

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (Reuters) - Rhode Island's House of Representatives on Tuesday elected its Democratic majority leader, Nicholas Mattiello, as speaker to fill a void created when a fellow Democrat stepped down this weekend amid a federal probe.

Mattiello, first elected as state representative in November 2006, received the votes of 61 lawmakers, ten times the support of his nearest rival and fellow Democrat, Representative Michael Marcello.

The prior speaker, Gordon Fox, on Saturday resigned his post after FBI officials searched his home and office in a joint investigation with the state's U.S. attorney, Internal Revenue Service and state police.

Officials have declined to comment on details of the investigation, saying the search warrants had been filed under a court-ordered seal.

The speaker position is one of the most powerful figures in Rhode Island politics, overseeing the passage of legislation in the 75-member lower house.

(Reporting by Fausto Giovanny Pinto; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)

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