Laufton Ascencao, who was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives in 2018 but never took office, pleaded nolo contendere to one count of felony embezzlement, three counts of failure to report campaign expenditures and one count of failure to have a duly appointed treasurer other than himself certify the accuracy of his campaign finance reports, according to a statement from the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General.
The embezzlement charge stemmed from Ascencao’s time as treasurer of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club, Providence, R.I. During 2018, Ascencao allegedly diverted $16,379 from the Sierra Club’s checking account, which he used to pay for his 2018 campaign for state representative of Rhode Island House District 68. Ascencao, a Democrat, won his race but was never seated.
Ascencao was given a five-year suspended sentence with probation and ordered to pay $13,387.70 restitution to the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club. Ascencao had previously repaid $2,992 to the chapter. The restitution represents the balance of what he had diverted from the nonprofit. He was also hit with a $1,000 fine.
Ascencao’s misappropriation of funds was discovered by the leaders of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club after he won the seat in November 2018. He was immediately removed from his volunteer position, and he stepped away from his seat in the Rhode Island House before being sworn in. Democrat June Speakman was elected to the seat in a special election.
In addition to his role with the Sierra Club, Ascencao had been an organizer and lobbyist with the Rhode Island Working Families Party, according to The Providence Journal. The two organizations shared office space, The Providence Journal reported.
In addition to the embezzlement charges, Ascencao faced campaign finance violations, including failing to report $3,357 he spent on a campaign manager and campaign palm cards – mini fliers used to introduce a candidate to voters. By not reporting the expenditures, Ascencao had hoped to conceal that they had been paid out of the checking account for the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club, according to the statement from the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General.
“As I have said previously, obscuring the truth when it comes to campaign finance isn’t about the amount of money involved,” Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha said via a statement. “It’s not even about the low-rent behavior that some political operatives bring to campaigns. It’s about the public confidence in government that we lose when that happens, and the enormous damage that does to our state.”