PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Embattled former state Rep. John Carnevale pleaded no contest to a felony count of perjury on Wednesday morning as part of a plea deal, acknowledging that he lied to investigators about whether he lived in his district in 2016.
As part of the deal outlined in court, prosecutors will drop two other counts of perjury and one count of filing a false document. The attorney general’s office also noted that they had recommended Carnevale serve time in prison.
Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo sentenced Carnevale to five years, with nine months on home confinement and the rest of the time suspended on probation. Carnevale’s attorney, William Dimitri, declined to say where his client will serve his punishment.
However, Dimitri did say that Carnevale can’t run for office this year as he had planned. He had recently received the local Democratic Party endorsement in his district as he sought to make a comeback. The secretary of state’s office said his name will be removed from the Sept. 12 primary ballot.
“When elected officials lie, whether it be to a public body like the Board of Canvassers or the people they are elected to serve, it erodes the public’s faith in all government,” Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, himself a former lawmaker, said in a statement.
“Despite this defendant’s arrogance and attitude that he was untouchable, today’s plea proves just the opposite – no one is above the law,” Kilmartin continued. “It is my hope that today’s plea will help restore some of the public’s trust, knowing that police and prosecutors will continue to hold our public officials accountable for their actions.”
Carnevale, 56, was indicted last year after a Target 12 investigation in 2016 raised questions about whether he actually lived in the district he represented. Providence elected officials soon kicked him off the voter rolls, forcing the once-influential Democrat to drop his re-election campaign.
Carnevale now admits he lied to city officials about where he lived during that investigation.
Dimitri said his client made the decision to take a plea deal this week after weighing the risks of going to trial. Each perjury count comes with a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Carnevale is a retired Providence police officer who currently receives a disability pension.
“He thinks it’s in his best interest, the best interest of the constituents of District 13,” Dimitri said. “And best interests of the people at the State House that he admires and respects.”
Carnevale will be back in court on Aug. 22. The attorney general’s office said the R.I. Department of Corrections has to determine if Carnevale is eligible for home confinement.
The case against Carnevale is that he lied to Providence election officials. He has just admitted to those facts. Here is the original Target 12 investigation on John Carnevale that launched this all: https://t.co/dDfuulAMCS— Tim White (@TimWhiteRI) August 8, 2018
Carnevale claimed he slept in the basement of his official residence on Barbara Street and would use his tenant’s bathroom on the first floor. Target 12 undercover video showed the lawmaker spent much of his time at a different home he owned in Johnston, outside his district, that he had not disclosed owning to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.
Following days of hearings before the Providence Board of Canvassers, election officials determined Carnevale did not live in the district and removed him from the voter rolls. He soon dropped his re-election bid.
“This is a great example of investigative journalism – holding power accountable,” said John Marion, executive director of good-government group Common Cause Rhode Island.
“Without the Channel 12 reporting, including the undercover work that was done as part of the original reporting in 2016, this never would have happened,” he said. “It never would have gotten to the Board of Canvassers, they would never have made a determination, the attorney general never would have had a referral from the city on which to act, so we wouldn’t be here.”
“In all likelihood, John Carnevale would be running for re-election as a state representative,” Marion added.
R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell, who originally filed the formal complaint against Carnevale with the Providence Board of Canvassers, said it was still “appalling” that Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello made Carnevale the vice-chair of the House Finance Committee since at the time he had already been indicted in 2011 for sexual assault. (Those charges were later dropped when the victim died suddenly.)
“But we are pleased to see that Carnevale has pled no contest to these perjury charges,” Bell said. “As a result, Republicans will not need to make an effort to expel him from the House in January 2019 in the event he had been elected.”
A spokesman for Mattiello did not respond to a question about Carnevale.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said she was also pleased that Carnevale would not be a candidate this fall. “I would say it’s always frustrating when you see any public official involved in any wrongdoing, corruption, criminality,” she said. “We’re trying to get beyond that as a state.”
“It’s a good thing that he won’t be on the ballot, but what we really need to do, the public deserves to have confidence in their public officials, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do for three-and-a-half years as governor,” she said.
State law precludes anyone from running for office for three years if he or she receives a sentence of six months or greater from the end of their sentence. Which means Carnevale won’t be eligible to run for office again for another eight years, unless he is able to reduce his sentence.
“I think politics is in his blood; I think public service is in his blood,” Dimitri said. “I think he’ll miss it.”
Providence City Council President David Salvatore said he would donate a $125 contribution he received this year from Carnevale to Sojourner House.
The criminal case against Carnevale appeared to hit a speed bump when it was revealed hundreds of hours of state police surveillance video had been recorded over, though detective’s notes of the material remained. But in the end the incident had no impact on the case. A spokesperson said the count to which Carnevale ultimately pleaded guilty was based in part on the videotaped surveillance.
State Rep. Ramon Perez, the Democrat who won Carnevale’s old House District 13 seat in 2016, is seeking re-election. He faces challenger Mario Mendez in the Sept. 12 primary.
Steph Machado and Dan McGowan contributed to this report.