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Former state representative-elect pleads to embezzlement and campaign finance charges

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced that a former state representative-elect was sentenced in Providence County Superior Court after pleading to felony embezzlement and campaign finance charges stemming from actions undertaken during his campaign for state representative of House District 68 in 2018.

Laufton Ascencao (age 27) pleaded nolo contendere to one count of felony embezzlement, three counts of failure to report campaign expenditures, and one count of failure to have a duly appointed treasurer certify the accuracy of his campaign finance reports.

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

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

"The people of Rhode Island should be able to count on the integrity of their public officials in general, and particularly when it comes to campaign finance laws. 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," said Attorney General Neronha. "As I have said previously, 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.

"Former Representative-Elect Ascencao's public service career plainly got off to a poor start, and he has been held accountable for his conduct today," Attorney General Neronha continued. "I am grateful for this Office's continued partnership with the Board of Elections and the Rhode Island State Police on this case and others that matter to the people of Rhode Island. We'll keep bringing these cases, because the people of Rhode Island deserve the dirty laundry aired, and their public officials held accountable."

Had the case proceeded to trial, the State was prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that in 2018, 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 2018 campaign for state representative of House District 68, which includes portions of the towns of Bristol and Warren.

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 intended to hide the fact 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.

"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 Colonel James M. Manni, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Department of Public Safety. "Regardless of monetary value, the State Police will always investigate these crimes to ensure accountability and honesty from our elected officials."

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.

Special Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Q. Morin of the Office of the Attorney General's Public Integrity Unit and Detective James Brown and Investigator Gerard Ratigan of the Rhode Island State Police Financial Crimes Unit led the investigation and prosecution of the case.

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