PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One day after he pleaded to a count of felony embezzlement, Providence City Councilman Luis Aponte resigned the council seat he held for two decades.
Council spokesperson Billy Kepner delivered Aponte’s concise resignation letter to the city clerk’s office, and picked up Aponte’s keys and city-issued cell phone.
“Please accept this letter as my official resignation as a member of the Providence City Council,” Aponte write in the one-line letter to city clerk Shawn Selleck.
Aponte did not go in person to City Hall to tender his resignation, and was not reachable by phone or at his home for comment.
Kepner said the council, which is in August recess, would schedule a special meeting to accept the resignation and declare the seat vacant, and then call for a special election to be scheduled.
A special election for a council seat costs the city about $30,000 to $40,000, according to city spokesperson Emily Crowell. The city charter says a special election must be scheduled within 90 days of the seat becoming vacant.
In the plea deal obtained by Target 12, Aponte acknowledged that his plea of nolo contendere “is for all purposes the same as a plea of guilty.” Three other charges were dropped in exchange for the plea on the embezzlement charge.
State law requires convicted felons to leave office, and the requirement to resign was also included in the plea deal as a condition of Aponte’s probation. He’s also required to file any outstanding campaign finance reports.
According to the Board of Elections campaign finance director Ric Thornton, Aponte has a report due Wednesday and also never filed his report for the second quarter of 2017, which is the same quarter in which he was indicted.
“As a result, none of the reports that were filed thereafter can be reconciled accurately,” Thornton said.
It was the Board of Elections which initially discovered back in 2016 that Aponte was spending his campaign money on personal expenses, after he failed to file multiple campaign finance reports and the board issued subpoenas to his bank. It found $13,942 in personal expenses paid with his campaign funds, including for a Netflix subscription and Apple iTunes.
Aponte paid restitution after securing a loan from his ex-wife and campaign treasurer, Gwendolyn Buckley Andrade, according to the Board of Elections.
Aponte, the longtime councilman from Ward 10, was still serving as council president when he was indicted in 2017 on the embezzlement charges.
Under pressure, he resigned as council president, but retained his council seat and even won reelection in 2018 while awaiting trial. (His opponent in last year’s Democratic primary, Pedro Espinal, lost by only 24 votes and says he will now run in the special election to replace Aponte.)
Days before Aponte was indicted, his former Majority Leader Kevin Jackson was recalled from office by voters. Jackson resigned his leadership post on the council after his arrest in 2016, and he is currently in prison serving time for embezzlement.
“It’s hard for the residents of the city of Providence because we’ve had this long and storied history,” said John Marion, the executive director of good-government group Common Cause RI. “With [former Mayor] Cianci, with Jackson, with Aponte, with some of the state reps from the city like Gordon Fox who abused the public trust.”
Marion supports a bill, which has so far languished in the General Assembly, that would require the Board of Elections conduct random audits of campaign finance accounts.
Aponte’s trial had been scheduled for September prior to his decision to plead nolo contendere. The plea hearing was not publicized by the attorney general’s office ahead of time.
The Providence Journal’s editorial board criticized Attorney General Peter Neronha for the plea deal with Aponte, writing in an article Tuesday night, “This outcome will leave many in the public wondering how serious Mr. Neronha is about prosecuting corruption in Rhode Island government.” The board suggested Aponte should have served time in prison.
Earlier this year, Aponte filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Among his outstanding debts listed in bankruptcy documents is the nearly $14,000 loan from his ex-wife he used to pay back his campaign account. The bankruptcy filings say he doesn’t have any personal money in the bank, and his assets total $3,760.