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The news was a bit startling – a former Providence Councilman, convicted of embezzlement just a few years ago, lands an important government job in Central Falls, while also still owing the state Board of Elections more than $50,000 in fines for some 60 citations of failing to file campaign finance reports, or filing them late.
Luis Aponte, convicted in 2019 of felony embezzlement, was hired by new Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera as deputy director of public works and code enforcement. He escaped a jail sentence by resigning from the Providence City Council, in a plea deal just a month before his trial was to begin in 2019. He was placed on four and a half years’ probation.
Aponte was charged in 2017 of spending nearly $14,000 of campaign contributions on personal expenses. He was council president at the time. State law prohibits use of campaign funds for personal use.
“I believe in mercy and second chances,” said Rivera according to a story on WPRI’s website. She explained that Aponte, who had served on her transition team has years of “municipal leadership in urban and multilingualism.”
While Aponte was among the greatest offenders, dozens of former candidates and political committees owe more than $4.5 million in fines. The figure includes initial fines, plus interest charged on those fines as candidates fail to respond.
We’ve talked with elections officials in the past, and they say the law is lame. When the board goes to court, officials have said judges often significantly reduce the fines.
Even more disturbing is that despite efforts by Gov. Raimondo and others, the legislature has rejected efforts to ban those owing fines from running for office. A quick look at some of the top offenders, finds several who continue to run for office as election fines mount, according to Board of Elections records.
Of 51 individuals and organizations owing more than $1,000 in fines, 12 have run for office since 2016, a few even last year. Among those owing the most in fines are John Lane McMahon of Portsmouth and David Carlin III of Newport.
Some committees and organizations also made the list, including the Charlestown Republican Town Committee ($7,077), East Providence Republican Committee ($2,522), Providence Democratic Committee ($435), and Newport Firefighters Local 1080 ($177).
Campaign finance reports can reveal significant information. You can learn a lot about a candidate, knowing who and what organizations are making significant donations and where candidates are spending their campaign dollars.