Disgraced legislator Ascencao to surrender Thursday on embezzlement charge

State police expected to bring count of embezzlement in Sixth Division District Court

By Ted Hayes
Posted 9/4/19

Disgraced would-be state legislator Laufton Ascencao of Bristol, who won the District 68 House of Representatives seat in 2018 only to resign months later after a host of financial irregularities …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?


Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.


Disgraced legislator Ascencao to surrender Thursday on embezzlement charge

State police expected to bring count of embezzlement in Sixth Division District Court

Posted

Disgraced would-be state legislator Laufton Ascencao of Bristol, who won the District 68 House of Representatives seat in 2018 only to resign months later after a host of financial irregularities were uncovered, is expected to be arraigned on an embezzlement charge Thursday morning in Sixth Division District Court in Providence.

Mr. Ascencao, the one-time Golden Boy of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, fell from grace last December after allegations of financial impropriety were levied against him by the Warren Democratic Town Committee and his once-friend, June Speakman.

Ms. Speakman, who later ran for and won the empty seat he ultimately vacated, was the first in Warren to find troubling financial disclosures in Mr. Ascencao’s campaign finance records. She forwarded her concerns to the Rhode Island Board of Elections.

Charges have not yet been officially filed against Mr. Ascencao, and his attorney, John Grasso of Providence, said he had not yet seen the criminal complaint filed against Mr. Ascencao by the Rhode Island State Police. But  State Police Major Timothy Sanzi said Wednesday evening that the affidavit to be filed in the case contains one count of embezzlement.

He also said he and Mr. Grasso had been working "for some time" to determine Mr. Ascencao's whereabouts and confirm his presence at Thursday's arraignment, set for 9 a.m.

Fall from grace

According to a fiscal audit released by the board of elections in February, Mr. Ascencao misspent thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and a private organization's funds during his successful campaign for the District 68 seat, failed to file proper paperwork and accepted donations well above the legal limit.

The audit also concludes that Mr. Ascencao used nearly $2,800 in campaign funds on food, beverages, meals and travel expenses without saving receipts or accounting for the spending. It also alleges that he diverted thousands of dollars from the Sierra Club, of which he was Rhode Island chapter president, to his own campaign and to pay rent and expenses for the Rhode Island Working Families Party, of which he was a lobbyist and organizer.

Among the audit's findings:

  • Six contributions totaling $1,900 were not itemized in campaign finance reports as required.
* Mr. Ascencao accepted total contributions of $2,000 from an individual, twice the amount allowed per year.
* Two contributions totaling $234.25 were not reported on campaign finances reports filed by Mr. Ascencao.
* Cash withdrawals and related fees totaling $945.75 had no supporting documentation.
* About $600 in campaign expenditures were not reported on campaign finance reports.
* Mr. Ascencao wrote $9,300 in unauthorized checks from the Sierra Club related to his campaign, and made unauthorized payments of $4,600 to the Rhode Island Working Families PAC for rent and expenses.
  • The news of Mr. Ascenao's alleged violations came as somewhat of a vindication for two of Mr. Ascenao's former opponents for the House District 68 seat, who had questioned the money Mr. Ascencao raised last year, and how it was spent, for months.
  • William Hunt, a Libertarian candidate for the seat who filed a campaign finance complaint against Mr. Ascencao after the Warren allegations came to light in December, and Bristol Democrat Andy Tyska, who lost to Mr. Ascencao in last September's Democratic primary, both said in February that the findings show not only the depth of Mr. Ascencao's wrongdoing but the extent to which PACs and other special interest groups help sway small local races like this:
  • "These things have been festering under the surface" for months, Mr. Hunt said. "It's not surprising. I've been beating around the bush with this, not having access to all the investigative powers that the state has, but I think there's more to this. I don't think this is the end of this.This is something that, with the special interest that are involved in these small elections, is really what the issue is."
  • Mr. Tyska has also raised questions about his opponent’s campaign, and said he is surprised at the extent of Mr. Ascenao's alleged breaches:
  • “I saw all the money, and where it was coming from, and where all the people were coming from, many of them from out of town, to support his candidacy.”
  • He warned voters it was a bad trend for local races.
  • “I think what’s important, looking forward, is the importance of questioning the tactics of other candidates who are receiving similar support, and what their candidacy is based on,” Mr. Tyska said.
    Asked if he was surprised by what the state audit discovered, Mr. Tyska admitted he was: “Overall, I think campaign finance records are inappropriately weaponized, but I’m surprised, in this case, that it shows a true record of wrongdoing.”
  • Following the audit, Ms. Speakman wrote to East Bay Media Group that "when the local Warren Democratic candidates discovered (improprieties) we immediately filed a complaint with the Board of Elections; it’s clear that we made the right decision. Campaign Finance misuse and fraud have been a problem for far too many RI politicians — even in the East Bay. We must demand more from political candidates and our elected officials to avoid these scandals that cause turmoil in our communities and distrust in our government.”
  • Note: This story contains previously published passages.

2020 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.