PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Robert Ritacco, the chairman of the Westerly Democratic Town Committee, has been charged with sexual assault, according to the attorney general’s office.
A statewide grand jury on Monday indicted Ritacco on two counts of first-degree sexual assault following an investigation by the R.I. State Police.
The attorney general’s office said the alleged incident occurred on May 29 of last year, which was the start of Memorial Day weekend. The indictment accuses Ritacco of engaging in two sex acts with the victim even though he “did know or had reason to know that she was physically helpless at the time.”
Ritacco, 52, is also treasurer of the R.I. Association of Democratic City and Town Chairs, an organization that represents local party leaders in all 39 municipalities. He also previously served on the Westerly Town Council.
Ritacco is scheduled to be arraigned on May 23 in Washington County Superior Court. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Richard DelFino, who leads the Democratic chairs association, said he hadn’t been aware of the indictment before he was contacted by 12 News.
“That’s shocking news,” he said.
A short time later, DelFino said Ritacco had sent an email to all the Democratic chairs informing them he would take a leave of absence from his role as treasurer.
“Effective immediately, I am taking a leave of absence from my duties as Treasurer of the Association,” he wrote in the one-sentence message.
Kate Coyne-McCoy, senior adviser at the Rhode Island Democratic Party, told 12 News that while the Democratic chairs association is displayed prominently on the state party’s website, it is “a separate and independent entity from the Rhode Island Democratic Party. We do not direct their activities.”
Speaking prior to Ritacco’s announcement about taking a leave of absence, she continued, “We do, however, believe that Mr. Ritacco should resign or step aside while these very serious allegations are worked through so as not to cause a distraction from the really critical work being done by the Rhode Island Democratic Party for the people of Rhode Island.”
Ritacco currently works as internal auditor and accounting officer for Workforce Solutions of Providence/Cranston, a federally funded city agency, earning $76,389 annually as of last fall.
Theresa Agonia, spokesperson for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, said Ritacco was suspended from his job on Monday “in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, and advised that he is not to enter any city buildings.” The city’s HR department will schedule a disciplinary hearing for him over the next 24 to 48 hours, she said.
This isn’t the first time Ritacco has made headlines for legal issues.
In 2007, Ritacco was charged with filing a false police report after alleging that his state-owned laptop was stolen while he was working for the Division of Taxation. Prosecutors alleged that Ritacco was actually trying to cover up the fact that he was using the computer to run “a thriving tax preparation business,” according to a Providence Journal article at the time.
A judge threw out the case on a technicality in 2008, by which point Ritacco — who was already head of the Westerly Democrats at the time — had been dismissed from his state job. Ritacco was hired in Providence at the end of that year.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook
Steph Machado contributed to this report.