PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Providence city councilor has been ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines for campaign finance violations related to his council race last year.
The R.I. Board of Elections initiated an audit of Ward 9 City Councilman Juan Pichardo‘s campaign account in February “due to a large discrepancy” between his campaign account balance and his campaign finance report at the end of 2022.
Pichardo was elected to the city council last fall and is serving as president pro tempore, representing Elmwood, South Providence, the West End, and Washington Park. Before that, Pichardo served in the state senate from 2003 to 2017 and chaired the city’s Board of Licenses.
The Board of Elections met in an executive session on Tuesday night to discuss Pichardo’s campaign finance violations. Richard Thornton, the board’s director of campaign finance, told Target 12 that Pichardo already paid $1,500 toward his total fine on Wednesday.
In a statement, Pichardo said he took “full responsibility” for the errors.
“I deeply regret any inconvenience or disappointment caused to my constituents due to the incomplete record-keeping,” Pichardo said. “I want you to know I’m committed to fixing these mistakes and ensuring compliance.”
Pichardo also said his financial reporting is “complete and accurate” through the first quarter of this year.
“From now on, I will make every effort to make sure that my campaign finances are handled with the utmost integrity and compliance,” he said. “I am dedicated to serving my constituents by being transparent and accountable.”
Thornton said the board only has civil authority, not criminal authority, over campaign finance violations.
“In instances when a candidate fully cooperates with the Campaign Finance Audit, is forthcoming with information and there is no appearance that the violations were willful or intentional, I will generally author a Consent Order for the Board’s consideration and approval,” Thornton explained.
Thornton said that means Pichardo acknowledged his violations, waived his right to a hearing, and agreed to certain provisions, including paying out a civil penalty.
The audit noted Pichardo agreed to pay $3,000 to the board from his personal funds. Half of the fine must be paid by the end of 2023, and the remainder must be paid by the end of 2024, according to the report.
The board noted in its audit that it conducted a full review of campaign finance reports from May 1 through Dec. 31 of last year, and compared those to documents and bank records that the councilor submitted voluntarily.
In that review, the board learned $3,796 in campaign contributions and $5,707 in expenditures were disclosed on campaign bank account statements, but not in campaign finance reports.
Additionally, $10,628 in contributions and $4,360 in expenditures were disclosed on campaign bank accounts, but then were disclosed “inaccurately or incompletely on campaign finance reports.”
Another $275 in contributions were “received from anonymous sources,” according to the audit, and a personal expense of $50 was paid from the campaign’s bank account.
In Pichardo’s response in the audit, he said it came to his attention that “an error occurred in classifying a receipt” when he bought a box of baseballs for a local Little League team which resulted “in an incorrect allocation of funds.” However, Thornton told Target 12 the receipt provided indicated the campaign funds were used for an article of clothing.
The audit noted on two dates in May, Pichardo forfeited the $275 in anonymous contributions he received and paid $50 back to his campaign finance account for the apparent personal expenses.
“I understand the importance of maintaining proper records and will take the necessary steps to prevent such issues from recurring in the future,” Pichardo said in the report.
Lastly, the audit’s review found a separate treasurer or deputy treasurer was not appointed and that an account certification was not submitted for six campaign finance reports.
Pichardo said in the audit report he also recognized the significance of the requirement and assured he would appoint a campaign treasurer “as soon as possible.”
Target 12 has reached out to Council President Rachel Miller for comment.