PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A disgraced Bristol politician pleaded no contest Wednesday to felony embezzlement and campaign finance charges stemming from an investigation into a faked invoice he submitted during his run for state representative in 2018.
Laufton Ascencao, 27, was ordered to serve a five-year suspended sentence with probation and to repay the more than $13,000 he stole from the Rhode Island chapter of the Sierra Club, according to Attorney General Peter Neronha. He must also pay a $1,000 fine.
Neronha said Ascencao, without authorization, diverted $16,379 from the checking account of the Sierra Club while he was serving as treasurer of the organization. He then used that money instead to pay for expenses accrued during his campaign.
In an attempt to cover it up, Neronha said Ascencao submitted a fake campaign invoice to prove he used the funds to send a political mailer, though that mailer was never actually sent.
The R.I. Board of Elections began investigating Ascencao following an audit of his campaign finance account in the months leading up to the election, but the allegations against him didn’t come to light until after voters elected him to represent House District 68.
Ascencao ultimately admitted to faking the invoice, and apologized to voters and members of the Warren Democratic Town Committee for misleading them about the non-existent mailer.
Neronha said Ascencao’s public service career “plainly got off to a poor start” and he’s now being held accountable for his actions.
“Obscuring the truth when it comes to campaign finance isn’t about the amount of money involved,” Neronha said. “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.”
Prior to his sentencing, Neronha said Ascencao had already repaid $2,992 to the Sierra Club, which is why he was only ordered to pay $13,387 in court Wednesday.