PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A candidate for Providence City Council has been referred to the attorney general’s office for possible prosecution following a series of campaign finance violations, according to the R.I. Board of Elections.
The state elections board voted last week to refer Gerard Catala to prosecutors after auditing his campaign account and finding more than $7,000 worth of spending that was not accounted for on his campaign finance reports.
Catala, a Democrat, is currently running for the City Council seat in Ward 9, an open seat that’s being vacated by term-limited Democrat Carmen Castillo. Catala previous ran for the seat in 2018 and 2014, losing to Castillo both times.
An audit report written by the Board of Elections says the campaign finance team decided to audit Catala last year because he failed to submit a series of campaign finance reports in 2018.
The elections board subpoenaed three years of Catala’s bank statements, finding 132 transactions totaling $7,176 funded from his campaign account but not included on Catala’s campaign finance reports. (Candidates must disclose all campaign donations and expenditures to the Board of Elections.)
The transactions include $1,400 taken out in cash, according to the audit.
“Unable to validate the debits as campaign related,” the audit states.
The audit also says more than $6,000 in deposits to the campaign account were not reported on Catala’s reports. The Board of Elections also found a $50 check labeled “donation” was deposited into Catala’s personal bank account.
Another $4,000 in campaign expenses were paid out of Catala’s personal account and not disclosed as required, according to the audit.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Peter Neronha said his office received the referral and is conducting a review.
Reached by phone, Catala told 12 News he was unaware of the criminal referral, and said he had submitted receipts to the Board of Elections detailing his expenses during the course of the audit.
“Admittedly, the campaign finance reports weren’t done in a traditional sense,” Catala said. “But I was audited and within that audit I itemized everything that was spent throughout my campaign.”
“I have every single receipt from every item I ever purchased,” Catala added. He said many of the unaccounted-for transactions are bank fees, and said he would send 12 News his records detailing the transactions once he retrieves them from an external hard drive.
Catala said the $50 check deposited into his personal account was a campaign donation from Councilman Pedro Espinal in 2018. (Espinal was not in office at the time.)
“It was put into my personal account because at the time my campaign account was negative,” Catala said.
He said he did not fundraise for his 2018 council race and instead self-funded his campaign. His online campaign finance filings don’t show any reported donations from outside sources.
“I in no way intentionally misappropriated funds, nor did I even accidentally misappropriate funds,” Catala said.
Catala still has four campaign finance reports from his 2018 campaign that have not been submitted, according to the Board of Elections.
He has submitted more recent reports, but the Board of Elections audit claims seven of them were “filed falsely,” showing no contributions or expenditures from the campaign account.
“I’m pretty much a one-man show,” Catala said. “I don’t have the whole backing of the Democratic Party.”
Catala is facing April Brown, Juan Pichardo and Miguel Quezada in the Sept. 13 primary for Ward 9.
Two independent candidates, Diego Arene-Morley and Jose Perez Corporan, are running in the November general election.