EAST PROVIDENCE — East Providence election officials on Thursday said they’ve asked police to investigate signatures submitted on nomination papers for Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, marking the third municipality to request a police probe of Matos’ nomination papers in the First Congressional District race.
Earlier this week, Jamestown and Newport officials asked the police to investigate nominating signatures submitted by Holly McClaren, a part-time field coordinator in the Matos campaign. But East Providence officials are zeroing in on nominating signatures submitted by another Matos campaign worker — Shanna Gallagher, of East Providence.
The East Providence Canvassing Authority grew suspicious of a sheet containing 28 signatures for Matos after noticing that some of the addresses were wrong, and that names of some City Council members were listed with City Hall as their home addresses, said Christopher Dias, one three members on the Canvassing Authority and the board’s clerk.
He said none of the signatures on the sheet matched the signatures that East Providence election officials have on file, and he said handwriting for the signatures appeared to be same.
“To me, not only is this not valid, it looked like fraud,” Dias said. “I spoke to every single council person, and they said they did not sign that document.”
The Canvassing Authority contacted the East Providence police on Wednesday afternoon, and an officer came by to get a copy of the sheet of signatures, Dias said. “Doing our due diligence, we had to at least report it to the Board of Elections, which referred us to the local police,” he said.
Dias noted that the last six names on the sheet are five City Council members and an East Providence School Committee member. The address given for two of the council members is 145 Taunton Ave., which is City Hall, and the address given for the school committee member is 1998 Pawtucket Ave., which appears to be the East Providence High School vicinity.
Attorney General Peter F. Neronha’s office has said it is taking the lead in Iinvestigating whether the Matos nomination signatures are fraudulent. The state Board of Elections is scheduled to consider challenges to Matos signatures at 2 p.m. Friday.
East Providence City Council President Bob Rodericks said his name is written on the sheet of signatures referred to police, but he said it’s spelled wrong, the address is wrong, and that’s not his signature.
The sheet appears to include a signature for “Rob Rodrick,” of “Ward 1, East Prov.” But Rodericks said, “From what I saw, that is not my signature. It doesn’t even look like it. It’s not spelled correctly, and when I signed nomination papers, I use Robert P. Rodericks.”
Rodericks said he did sign a nomination paper for Matos during a fireworks show at Pierce Memorial Field in East Providence. But, he said, “That particular one is not my signature, nor is it my address.”
He said he also signed nomination papers for other Democratic candidates, including Gabe Amo and Don Carlson. “I will sign anyone’s papers because it allows them to get on the ballot,” he said.
As a lieutenant governor, Matos would probably have little problem collecting more than the 500 signatures needed to appear on the ballot, Rodericks said.
“From all the names running, she’s the one with the most name recognition, so I don’t know why her campaign would have done this,” he said. “My guess is some campaign worker was trying to impress her and grabbed a list for the officials from East Providence and wrote down their names to try to help her. It’s unnecessary, and it didn’t help her.”
The signatures on the East Providence sheet were notarized by Evan England, a spokesman for the Matos campaign who was attesting that Gallagher signed the nomination papers. Enlgand also notarized the Jamestown and Newport signatures submitted by McClaren.
Gallagher could not be reached immediately for comment Thursday. The Matos campaign did not have an immediate comment.
Matos is among 13 Democrats and two Republicans who have qualified for ballot. Candidates must submit at least 500 valid signatures to appear on the ballot, and the Matos campaign submitted 728 signatures that were validated by local boards of canvassers and certified by the secretary of state’s office.
Under Rhode Island law, it’s a felony to file nominating papers “knowing it or any part of it to be falsely made,” and the maximum penalty for such a conviction is up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000, according to the attorney general’s office. Prosecutors also could charge people with filing a false document, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.