PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Bristol Democrat who won an election for state representative in 2018, only to step down before he was sworn in, appeared in court Thursday morning on an embezzlement charge.
Laufton Ascencao, 26, was arraigned in Providence District Court and released on $10,000 personal recognizance.
Ascencao, who now resides in Maine, was charged with one count of embezzlement for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from the Sierra Club and putting the money toward his own campaign.
The allegations first came to light in the fall of 2018, shortly after voters in Bristol and Warren elected Ascencao to represent House District 68.
But Ascencao resigned from his General Assembly position before taking the oath of office after admitting he lied about a campaign mailer.
According to Rhode Island State Police, in 2018 the Board of Elections prompted an investigation into the campaign finance account of Ascencao, who was treasurer of the Sierra Club’s Rhode Island chapter at the time.
Police allege Ascencao wrote 15 checks from the Sierra Club checking account to his political campaign account.
The 15 checks totaled $16,379.70.
The criminal case stemmed from a June 2018 audit conducted by the Board of Elections, which found Ascencao used the money from the Sierra Club to funnel $4,600 to go toward the R.I. Working Families PAC.
Georgia Hollister Isman, the state director of the R.I. Working Families Party, a progressive advocacy group, said the group has not been contacted by investigators but has offered “to participate in any investigation.”
“Laufton lied to us about his activities and his fundraising, and we were horrified to learn about what he did,” Isman wrote in an email. “We are committed to doing whatever we need to make the Sierra Club whole, and we are waiting for the legal process to play out so that we have clarity about what is required.”
Ascencao is due back in court Dec. 6 for a pre-arraignment conference.