Tony Silva has stepped down as Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee’s chief of staff amid a growing controversy over conflict of interest questions involving a proposed land deal in Cumberland.

“Tony and I reached a mutual agreement that it is in the best interest of the Administration for him to retire from State government effective immediately,” McKee said in a statement Monday.

McKee stood by Silva last week as he received growing public attention for backing a proposal to build a house on a mostly wetlands lot in Cumberland. The state Department of Environmental Management rejected a wetlands permit in 2019, but approved a revised application earlier this year.

McKee initially downplayed the significance of the controversy involving Silva, whose family owns the parcel in question, attributing an ethics complaint filed by the state GOP to politics, and stood by his chief of staff. McKee said he was told by DEM there was no undue state influence.

The governor shifted last week to request an independent probe by Attorney General Peter Neronha, he said, to assure the public.

“Right now, his situation is a distraction from the critical work we have ahead,” McKee said in a statement. “I appreciate that Tony understands the need to remove the distraction to ensure we can continue serving Rhode Islanders effectively.”

The development backed by Silva was never built. The property is being donated by his family to Cumberland.

Silva is a former Cumberland police chief and state DMV head whose role as McKee’s chief of staff began when McKee served as lieutenant governor.

Silva will be replaced by McKee’s deputy chief of staff, Antonio Afonso Jr., another Cumberland native.

Afonso was previously a partner in a law firm that was among the defendants sued by the state over the collapse of video game company 38 Studios, and which agreed to a $4.4 million settlement in 2014.

Asked if Silva's exit from state government will affect the investigation requested by McKee, Kristy dosReis, spokeswoman for Attorney General Neronha said via email, "This Office and the Rhode Island State Police continue to investigate the matter of Tony Silva and the proposed development in Cumberland. Today’s announcement has no impact on the investigation, which remains ongoing."

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org. Follow him on Twitter @IanDon. Sign up here for his weekly RI politics and media newsletter.