UPDATED: Warren Democrats ask Ascencao to step down after allegedly false finance reports

By Ted Hayes
Posted 12/4/18

Members of the Warren Democratic Town Committee are calling for Bristol resident Laufton Ascencao to decline his District 68 House of Representative seat, after discovering that he allegedly …

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UPDATED: Warren Democrats ask Ascencao to step down after allegedly false finance reports

Posted

Members of the Warren Democratic Town Committee are calling for Bristol resident Laufton Ascencao to decline his District 68 House of Representative seat, after discovering that he allegedly submitted falsified financial documents to them concerning a mysterious mailer that he said was sent out to Warren residents on their behalf in the days before the Nov. 6 general election.

Though Mr. Ascencao, a progressive Democrat, told committee members the mailer was sent out to 424 Warren households between Nov. 3 and 5, and produced documents to prove it, committee members now believe that mailer never existed. Further, committee members believe those documents — a check to a printer for $857.44, the original printing invoice and copies of the mailer itself — were falsified.

Committee chairman Steve Thompson has reported the committee’s “concerning" findings to the Rhode Island Board of Elections, and wrote in a statement crafted following a Warren Democratic Town Committee meeting Monday night that Mr. Ascencao’s alleged deception, if not caught, could have caused endorsed Warren Democrats to unknowingly file false financial reports about their campaigns with the state.

“It is my responsibility as the chair of the Warren Democratic Town Committee to act quickly when information is presented to me that involves matters of ethics and campaign finance,” Mr. Thompson wrote in his statement.

Committee members agreed “the information we uncovered should be reported to the Board of Elections, as we were uncomfortable that we had been asked to submit our own reports based on false documents.”

The mailer

In the weeks and months leading up to the election, Warren Democrats were of the understanding that Mr. Ascencao would at some point distribute a mailer in which he promoted both his candidacy and those of the four Warren Democrats running for seats on the Warren Town Council — June Speakman, C. Brandt Heckert, Keri Cronin and Keith Phillis.

Under campaign finance laws, candidates are obligated to report anything their campaign receives, including financial donations and “in-kind” services, including promotional materials like mailers that promote candidacies.

Following the election, as Warren candidates were preparing their required financial disclosure forms to the state, Mr. Ascencao reached out to them and informed them that they should each claim $413.25 in “in-kind donations” on their reports, the amount he said his campaign spent, per candidate, on the mailer.

Candidates, who had never seen the mailer, questioned Mr. Ascencao about it, and after finding discrepancies in his story, numbers that didn’t add up and still no evidence of the mailer’s existence, reported their findings to Richard Thornton, director of campaign finance for the Rhode Island Board of Elections, last Friday, Nov. 30. The letter was signed by Mr. Thompson:

“I am not exactly sure what is going on here but it seems highly irregular and concerning to me,” Mr. Thompson wrote.

Mr. Phillis, a compliance attorney who serves as the town committee’s treasurer, said he believes it is clear that Mr. Ascencao falsified these documents:

“For some reason he felt the need to send me falsified documents,” Mr. Phillis said, though he said he is as in the dark as anyone else as to why.

“We are in a black box,” he said. “All we have” are the false documents Mr. Ascencao submitted.

“It caught me off guard,” he said. “I didn’t expect this from any of the candidates I supported, let alone Laufton. It was a bit of a heartbreak for me. But as an attorney, I have a higher level of duty to the laws of the state than the average person. So anything that’s less than strict compliance with the law is not enough.”

Mr Ascencao could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning. He easily won the District 68 seat last month in his first campaign for public office, running as a progressive Democrat who vowed to fight House leadership and to change the status quo in the General Assembly. He came under scrutiny from his opponent, Libertarian William Hunt, who questioned the validity of Mr. Ascencao's claims to be a commercial shellfisherman.

UDPATED: At 10 a.m., the Warren Democratic  released the following statement:

"The Warren Democratic Town Committee is committed to providing a town government that is open and accessible to all residents, served by honest, ethical, and responsible public officials. Mr. Ascencao's actions and decision-making around campaign finance has led to the WDTC to respond directly to Mr. Ascencao. It is with heavy hearts that we have asked Representative-elect Laufton Ascencao step down and not take office in January, for the sake of public confidence in government."

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