PROVIDENCE – Jonathan Riccitelli, a long-shot candidate in the Tuesday Republican primary for governor whose campaign includes a pledge to “REFUND the police,” has been arrested and admitted to criminal offenses ranging from obstructing police officers to assault, according to court records. Those records are under a different name.
Riccitelli, 40, has a criminal record in Rhode Island associated with the name Jonathan Tefft, from 2000, shortly after he became an adult and was charged the first time with simple assault, until 2019, when he was charged by North Kingstown police with providing false information to 911. He’s been charged by at least five Rhode Island police departments with obstructing police over the years, according to court records.
In all, there are 36 cases under the name Jonathan Tefft, with the same birthday as Jonathan Riccitelli the political candidate, listed in District Court. The bulk of the cases were before 2012. Some of the police, court, and jail records themselves also include the name Riccitelli as an alternative name for Tefft.
In an interview, Riccitelli maintained that he’s never lied about who he is and has always gone by Jonathan Riccitelli. He said the court records may have been a mixup with another person with the name Jonathan Tefft, pointing to a Division of Motor Vehicles snafu he’s still paying for. Though at first he said that he didn’t have any relatives named Tefft, he later acknowledged that his mother was married to someone whose last name was Tefft and that people may have called him “Jonathan Tefft” at some point.
When asked how many times he’d been arrested, he said he couldn’t remember. When asked how long he’d been in jail over the years, he said it was the sort of thing people try to block out of their mind. He denied that all of the charges listed under the name Jonathan Tefft were his, although, when asked if any of them were him, he said he wasn’t sure.
Had he ever admitted to a felony, as the court records indicated? He could not say, he said. But he emphasized that he now owns his own business and focuses on helping others after a childhood marked by abuse and time in a group home. He’d always had a big heart, he said, even when he was getting into trouble.
“The truth is, life wasn’t great when I was a kid,” Riccitelli told the Globe. “You get stuck in a small circle, and it doesn’t make you a bad person.”
Samantha Whitford, who was listed as his campaign treasurer earlier in the campaign, said in an email: “All I can tell you is Jon Riccitelli is a great person. He goes out of his way to help people, I have personally seen him leave groceries at people’s front step (out of his own pocket) with no notoriety. That all I have to say.”
Rhode Island law doesn’t appear to preclude Riccitelli from politics. People convicted of felonies, or people who are convicted of misdemeanors with certain jail sentences, can’t or run for office for three years, but Riccitelli’s criminal problems are either too far in the past or not serious enough to bar him from running for office.
Riccitelli, who is the owner of Growing Tree Property Solutions in Exeter, R.I., faces Ashley Kalus, a businesswoman, in the Republican primary. Early voting has already begun. The winner will go on to the general election in November.
Kalus has significantly more campaign funds than Riccitelli, and the backing of the state Republican Party. Riccitelli hasn’t appeared at the major gubernatorial campaign forums, but he has been active on social media and he’s held in-person campaign events.
He also ran as an independent for lieutenant governor in 2018, bringing in almost 10,000 votes, or 2.7 percent.
Riccitelli has only faced one charge that comes up under the name Riccitelli, driving with a suspended license in 2009 in Middletown, R.I., which was dismissed. He acknowledged the incident in an interview with the Globe.
Court and police records, though, show several other incidents under the name Tefft, which police records describe as another name he uses. The most recent arrest for giving false information to 911 – to which he pleaded no contest, and which he acknowledged was him – lists Tefft as an alias for Riccitelli.
A search of Rhode Island state electronic court records for “Jonathan Riccitelli” doesn’t bring up most of the court cases, but a search for “Jonathan Tefft” does.
Riccitelli said someone would have to contact the local police departments to get pictures of the person they arrested in these cases. While on the phone with him, The Boston Globe texted Riccitelli a mug shot associated with a 2011 state police arrest for assault and disorderly conduct of a person the state police identified as Jonathan (Tefft) Riccitelli.
“Holy s---,” Riccitelli said. “Handsome fellow. I don’t know. That’s a tough one. ... I’m going to compare that to some pictures of myself.”
Had he ever been, for example, charged with driving under the influence, as court records suggest? Riccitelli paused before answering: “I’d have to check. I don’t think so.”
In Rhode Island, a no-contest plea functions as the equivalent to a guilty plea. The no-contest pleas over the years associated with Riccitelli have been for charges including simple assault, disorderly conduct – domestic and not domestic – larceny, obstructing a police officer, driving a motor vehicle without permission, driving with a suspended license, trespass, eluding police, attempting to obtain money under false pretenses, receiving stolen goods, assault/escape by inmate, driving under the influence (twice), and the most recent, providing false information to 911.
Read a list of those charges on the phone, Riccitelli said those were not all true, but he would not say which ones, although when elaborating, he denied escaping from the Adult Correctional Institutions or assaulting anyone there and denied pleading no contest to domestic assault.
As to the numerous obstructing police charges, Riccitelli suggested that the confusion over his name — Tefft or Riccitelli — was to blame.
“I’m not saying that I’ve been charged with obstruction,” he said. “I’m just saying that if somebody gives a false name, then they get charged with obstruction.”
Riccitelli acknowledged the arrest in the 911 call case from 2019 was him, and chalked it up to a mid-divorce dispute in which he asked friends to leave the house. Police didn’t consider it an emergency, and charged him, he said.
The Department of Corrections confirmed that a person named Jonathan Tefft, variations of whose names include Jonathan J. Tefft-Riccitelli, had served at the Adult Correctional Institutions on and off from 2000 to 2011.
Riccitelli, meanwhile, said he has nothing to hide.
“I’m just a regular guy, he said. “And at the end of the day, I’m still myself.”
Brian Amaral can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.