CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung wound up making no rent payments for his 2016 campaign headquarters at Chapel View, and more recently failed to disclose an outstanding bill from the shopping plaza’s powerful owner, according to a Target 12 review of R.I. Board of Elections filings.

The Cranston mayor’s political team has been based at Chapel View for the past three election cycles. Two years ago, in 2016, Fung’s office was open from at least mid-July through the November election. To pay for the space, the campaign issued three $500 rent checks to Carpionato Group, Chapel View’s owner, on Aug. 1, Sept. 1 and Oct. 1.

The following July, however, Fung’s campaign amended its Board of Elections reports to say that all three payments had been refunded by Carpionato. It was the second time that had happened: Fung’s campaign also reported Carpionato refunded $1,000 of its $4,500 in rent from his 2014 gubernatorial bid, which operated out of Carpionato space from the spring through the election. That $1,000 refund was reported to the board in October 2016, more than two years after the rent check was cut.

In a statement early Wednesday afternoon, Fung spokesman Andrew Augustus said the Carpionato Group never cashed the checks, so Mark Collins – the campaign’s treasurer since 2014 – reported them as refunds to make its Board of Elections reports match its bank statements. (Augustus later said the campaign now thinks “the proper terminology should have been return not refund.”) He said the campaign did not reach out to Carpionato after discovering the checks were not cashed.

Augustus indicated the campaign is now making a new attempt to pay the uncashed 2014 and 2016 rent payments.

“Mayor Fung has directed his treasurer to again reissue the checks, and to follow up with the payee to ensure these new checks are cashed within the appropriate time period,” he said, referring to Carpionato.

Later in the afternoon, Carpionato Group President Kelly Coates offered a different explanation for some of the transactions. He said his accounting department had located the three $500 checks from 2016 with a note on them saying they were “held” because the Fung campaign had made repairs to its space following a roof leak.

“Campaign workers must have come up to clean up the space,” Coates said. “They had someone who donated the repairs inside the space. … If they had somebody do it and we figured it was a reasonable accommodation, they did it.”

However, Coates said he had no record or explanation for the $1,000 check from 2014 that the Fung campaign now says was also never cashed. “I haven’t gotten confirmation they gave them a refund,” Coates said.

“We’re a large company and we want to be clean,” he said, adding, “If they ask us to cash a check, we’re going to cash a check.” He also emphasized that free rent would qualify as an illegal campaign contribution and therefore is not something Carpionato would offer a candidate.

Richard Thornton, the Board of Elections’ director of campaign finance, told Target 12 that if the Fung campaign made repairs to offset its rent, the cost of the construction work would need to be disclosed as a campaign expense. He said he would need to see evidence that the value of the repairs covered the full $1,500, and would want the campaign to make clear in its reports that the work was in lieu of rent.

“I want transparency if that’s in fact what occurred,” Thornton said, but transparency is “clearly not what occurred – just holding a check is not the way to do it.”

“I want it documented,” he added.

Target 12 also found no record of rent payments to Carpionato for the Fung campaign’s current space at Chapel View, or for the space he used there to host his kickoff event last October. (The campaign’s most recent filing was dated March 31.) Asked about the matter, Augustus provided a letter from Coates dated March 1 that showed the campaign owed a “balloon payment” of $3,100 to Carpionato by May 1.

Thornton said campaigns that have outstanding debts need to disclose those in the accounts payable section of their Board of Elections reports. The Fung campaign amended its documentation after being informed of Thornton’s comments. (Coates said the Fung campaign has since made the $3,100 payment, and the check has been cashed.)

Augustus also said that when the Fung campaign signed its new lease with Carpionato last fall, “the issue of checks not being cashed did not come up.”

John Marion, executive director of good-government group Common Cause Rhode Island, said the state has strict rules on the reporting of campaign expenses so voters can have a full picture when they go to the voting booth. Voters are “robbed” of important information when campaigns aren’t transparent, he said.

Marion expressed concern about the Fung campaign’s reporting. “That’s premium real estate that they’re not paying market value for, according to filings,” he said. “I think clearly that campaign should be paying rent every month and they should be reporting that rent.”

“I wish I could get that deal for our office space at Common Cause,” he quipped.

Based in Johnston, Carpionato Group is one of the biggest real-estate developers in New England, with shopping plazas, hotels and other properties in multiple states. Its founder, Alfred Carpionato, is currently one of Cranston’s two largest property owners, with holdings valued at about $110 million, according to the city’s most recent municipal audit. Alfred Carpionato made $7,350 in campaign contributions to Fung between 2004 and 2017, Board of Elections records show.

Fung often praises Chapel View – as well as Garden City Center, a non-Carpionato development nearby – and cites the popular retail plazas as a sign of Cranston’s success under his leadership. “Those two large developments in Chapel View and Garden City, not a single tax dollar went into either of those developments, and it’s also the worldwide headquarters of Alex and Ani – you’ve got retailers there, restaurants,” Fung said during an April interview on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

Coates said the seemingly low rental rate paid by the Fung campaign – $500 a month – is the same deal offered to other candidates who seek office space from the company. He said the terms of Carpionato leases with campaigns require them to vacate their spaces as quickly as five to 20 days after a commercial tenant is found.

“There’s nothing here that wasn’t done for Senator Whitehouse or for Governor Almond or for Governor Carcieri,” Coates said. “It’s a standard thing.”

Marion said real-estate developers have more interaction with government than some other business owners. “Developers are always coming before cities and towns looking for variances and things, so developers all over the country are very active campaign donors,” he said.

Other campaigns’ Board of Elections filings show they make monthly rent payments.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo pays $565 a month to Shuster Realty LLC for an office on North Main Street in Providence. She has paid the company roughly $54,000 since 2013. Republican gubernatorial candidate Patricia Morgan pays $450 a month to Lacroix Properties for an office on Bald Hill Road in Warwick. She paid the company $1,350 during the first three months of this year.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook