NBC 10 I-Team: Lawmakers accused of breaking campaign finance laws
On Friday morning, Rhode Island’s Board of Elections is expected to send packages of information to the Attorney General’s office related to two politicians accused of violating state campaign finance laws.
The two men facing the scrutiny of the AG are former Cranston Rep. Peter Palumbo and current Providence City Council President Luis Aponte.
Lawmakers are required to file their campaign finance reports accurately and document how much cash they're bringing in and where it's going out. The process has become more detailed since former Speaker Gordon Fox’s crimes.
Documents reviewed by the NBC 10 I-Team show the state's director of campaign finance, Richard Thornton, was suspicious something wasn't right with Palumbo's records. He tried getting some answers from the then representative, but had to resort to pulling Citizen Bank records with two subpoenas in 2015.
Later, an audit found all sorts of problems, including illegal contributions, expenditures not supported by bank statements, and check contributions not filed in his reports.
One glaring issue was the discrepancy of money.
In 2014, Palumbo's campaign bank account was nearly empty with $263, but he reported having a substantial amount, $13,134. The difference was $12,871. The findings will now be reviewed by the AG, with a decision on whether the results warrant a civil or criminal prosecution or nothing at all.
During the same year, the NBC 10 I-Team first exposed Palumbo's connection to a lucrative state beach concession contract with his friend and then chairman of the democratic party, David Caprio. State police investigated the deal. Caprio resigned his position and Palumbo was defeated for re-election in Cranston. While no criminal charges have been filed, the I-Team learned that a federal grand jury was investigating the Palumbo/Caprio concession deal. Palumbo also faces an unresolved state ethics complaint filed by Common Cause RI.
The allegations against Aponte include his use of campaign funds for personal expenses. He also faced a rather large discrepancy of $13,942 between his filings and bank account. Aponte reimbursed the account in February 2016.
But Aponte’s problems with the board of elections have lingered.
In 2005, he had a $14,082 judgment placed against him for delinquent campaign finance reports and non-payment of late fees. That amount grew to $19,762 and Aponte’s wages were garnished for repayment. However, Aponte’s outstanding late fees and penalties now total $47,916, according to board of election records.
Aponte’s attorney, Artin Coloian, who’s also representing recently arrested City Councilor Kevin Jackson, said his client first reached out to the board to resolve these issues 18 months ago.
“I respectfully disagree with the board's referral (to the Attorney General),” Coloian said. “If someone moves to proactively rectify a problem, they're punished anyway.”