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Suffolk official pays fine over campaign violations

“It’s been horrible. She’s been made to look terrible by half truths. . . . She never hit that guy,” said Philip R. Boncore,  who is representing  Patricia Campatelli (above).

Jeremy C. Fox for The Boston Globe

“It’s been horrible. She’s been made to look terrible by half truths. . . . She never hit that guy,” said Philip R. Boncore, who is representing Patricia Campatelli (above).

Embattled Suffolk County Register of Probate Patricia Campatelli — already on administrative leave after allegedly punching an employee — has paid $10,000 to resolve charges she violated state campaign finance rules, including one barring the use of campaign funds for personal expenses.

Campatelli ran up $600 in personal charges on a campaign credit card and several times paid campaign expenses with personal checks that bounced, according to an agreement with the State Office of Campaign and Political Finance dated Feb. 13, but made public on Friday.

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Campatelli also violated rules against commingling personal and campaign funds, the agreement said. Under state law, all campaign expenses must be paid with a campaign checking account or credit card, but Campatelli spent $10,000 using her own money and credit and debit cards.

Campatelli’s lawyer, Philip Boncore, called the campaign violations “mistakes of an innocent nature” that have been corrected.

“It was a pretty steep fine,” said Boncore, noting that Campatelli had to pay out of her personal funds. “Of course it hurts.”

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Despite her troubles, Campatelli is determined to win reelection for a six-year term, according to Boncore, who said Campatelli has taken out nomination papers for next fall’s election.

“She’s elected by the people, she answers to the people, and the people support her,” said Boncore, who added that Campatelli has begun fund-raising and collecting signatures.

Two other candidates, Felix Arroyo, former Boston city councilor, and East Boston activist John Sepulveda, have also said they are running for the job, which pays $124,000 a year. Sepulveda has collected 300 of the 1,000 signatures required to secure a place on the ballot, according to the Massachusetts secretary of state’s office.

Campatelli was a surprise winner in the 2012 election, a first-time candidate who defeated a better-known and better-funded opponent to become the Suffolk County register, who manages cases involving family matters such as estates, child custody, and divorces.

But she was placed on administrative leave twice in her first year in office, most recently on Jan. 15 as court officials cited allegations of mismanagement and “unprofessional conduct” against her.

Campatelli allegedly punched longtime court employee Timothy Perry repeatedly in the face as the pair rode home from a night of partying at two Boston bars on Dec. 18. Perry told friends the assault left him bloodied and begging to get out of the car as it sped along Route 1A.

Court officials initially said they could not substantiate Perry’s allegations, even though he had photos showing swelling on the right side of his face as well as a bloody lip and a cut on his nose, according to a person familiar with the case.

The court allowed Campatelli to return to work after four days of paid administrative leave.

But the Administrative Office of the Trial Court reversed its position Jan. 15 after Globe reporters asked for comment on allegations by others at the party that Campatelli had been loud and profane and drinking freely before the alleged assault, and may have threatened Perry with disciplinary action after the fact.

“Based on new and serious allegations, the trial court is placing Suffolk Register of Probate Patty Campatelli on paid administrative leave, as of today, and beginning an independent investigation of her conduct by Dr. Ronald Corbett,” read a statement from the trial court.

Since then, Corbett, a former probation commissioner, has been interviewing virtually all of Campatelli’s employees, other court workers, and judges, according to courthouse sources.

Corbett has asked employees, among other questions, whether Campatelli ever yelled at them or whether they felt intimidated by her.

Campatelli also faced campaign finance violations that included late and missing reports, as well as a lack of documentation for expenditures.

The eight-page agreement said Campatelli’s committee failed to itemize $1,500 in donations, and collected $900 from businesses, which are not allowed to make political donations. She was also unable to produce receipts or records for numerous expenditures.

Though Campatelli’s suspension is open-ended, she had threatened to go back to work in early February in defiance of the court’s order to stay away, but eventually agreed to stay away while the investigation takes place.

She argued that court administrators lack the authority to remove an elected official from her job and that only the Supreme Judicial Court can do that.

Asked when she plans to return to work, Boncore said, “That’s a good question. We believe the trial court is working diligently to finish its report, and the minute it is done, she will go back to work,” he said, expressing confidence that Campatelli will be cleared.

“We are completely sure the report will find there was no wrongdoing on Patty’s part,” he said.

Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com. Sean P. Murphy can be reached at sean.murphy@globe.com.
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