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RI CRIME

Former R.I. state representative-elect sentenced for embezzlement, campaign finance crimes

Laufton Ascencao, 27, never ended up taking the oath of office to serve District 68, representing Bristol and Warren

The Rhode Island Statehouse.
The Rhode Island Statehouse.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

PROVIDENCE – A young progressive who won a House seat in 2018 and then admitted he’d lied about his campaign finances has been sentenced on felony embezzlement and campaign finance charges.

Laufton Ascencao, 27, never ended up taking the oath of office to serve District 68, representing Bristol and Warren

Discrepancies came to light shortly after his victory, leading to a criminal investigation, and on Wednesday, Asencao pleaded no contest to a charge of felony embezzlement, three counts of failing to report campaign expenditures, and one count of failure to have a duly appointed treasurer certify the accuracy of his campaign finance reports.

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Superior Court Judge Luis M. Matos gave Ascencao a five-year suspended sentence with probation and ordered him to pay restitution of $13,387.70 to the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club. The court also imposed a $1,000 fine.

The attorney general’s office announced Ascencao’s sentencing Wednesday afternoon.

“Campaign finance laws exist for a reason: to ensure that the public knows precisely who is supporting a candidate and to what extent. Such transparency allows the public to put in context decision-making by their elected officials,” Attorney General Peter F. Neronha said in a statement. “Obscuring the truth when it comes to campaign finance isn’t about the amount of money involved. 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.”

The attorney general’s office intended to bring a case that Ascencao embezzled over $16,000 from the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club and committed multiple campaign finance violations.

In 2018, Ascencao, without authorization, diverted $16,379 from the checking account of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club while he was serving as treasurer of that organization. Ascencao used the money to pay for expenses during his campaign.

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The campaign finance violations stem from Ascencao’s failure to report expenditures on his campaign finance filing with the Rhode Island Board of Elections. He failed to report expenditures of approximately $3,357 in payments to his campaign manager and the purchase of campaign palm cards. By not reporting these expenditures, Ascencao hid that the funds came from the checking account of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Ascencao also failed to appoint a campaign treasurer, as is required by state law, other than himself to certify his campaign finance filings associated with his 2018 campaign.

In 2019, the Rhode Island Board of Elections, following an initial review, referred Ascencao’s case to the Attorney General’s office and the Rhode Island State Police for criminal investigation.

“There is no excuse or room for blatant dishonesty or for the malicious intent of stealing funds from an organization, specifically when it involves a public official that the people of the State of Rhode Island have put their trust in,” said State Police Colonel James M. Manni.

Prior to sentencing, Ascencao repaid $2,992 to the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club. The restitution ordered by the court today, represents the balance of the funds that he diverted for his personal use.