VIDEO: Ascencao released on $10,000 personal recognizance

Faces one charge of embezzlement stemming from 2018 campaign for House of Representatives District 68

By Ted Hayes
Posted 9/5/19

Disgraced would-be state legislator Laufton Ascencao, who faces a felony charge of embezzlement stemming from his successful 2018 campaign for House of Representatives …

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VIDEO: Ascencao released on $10,000 personal recognizance

Faces one charge of embezzlement stemming from 2018 campaign for House of Representatives District 68


Disgraced would-be state legislator Laufton Ascencao, who faces a felony charge of embezzlement stemming from his successful 2018 campaign for House of Representatives District 68, was released on $10,000 personal recognizance bail Thursday morning and is due back in court in early December.

Mr. Ascencao appeared at the Garrahy Judicial Complex just before 9 a.m. with his attorney, John Grasso of Providence. He did not enter a plea during the three-minute arraignment, but agreed to respond to state police headquarters in Lincoln Thursday for processing and paperwork.

The embezzlement charge pertains to the alleged theft of more than $16,000 from the Sierra Club last November. Rhode Island State Police said that while serving as the treasurer for the club's Rhode Island chapter, Mr. Ascencao allegedly diverted funds  to pay for his personal campaign expenses without club officials' knowledge or permission. Police said Mr. Ascencao wrote 15 checks totalling $16,379.90 from the Sierra Club checking account to fund his political campaign.

HERE: See video of Laufton Ascencao in court this morning.

District Court Judge Pamela Woodcock-Pfeiffer said the case will be reviewed by state police and Rhode Island Attorney General's Office prior to December, to see if other charges are warranted.

Mr. Ascencao, a former Bristol resident, gave his address as Orono, Maine.

Mr. Ascencao fell from grace last December after allegations of financial impropriety were reported 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.

According to a fiscal audit released by the board 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 concluded 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.

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