PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Republican Party has filed a complaint with the R.I. Ethics Commission against state Rep. Carlos Tobon, alleging the Pawtucket Democrat repeatedly violated the law when he failed to disclose personal debts and business activities on state ethics forms.
The state GOP filed the complaint and requested an investigation on Monday, in the wake of a Target 12 investigation that revealed a long line of people who say they got burned doing business with Tobon. Many of the disputes played out while Tobon, first elected in 2014, was serving in the General Assembly.
The complaint outlines thousands of dollars in personal debt owed by Tobon that wasn’t listed on his annual ethics forms as required by state law, as well as a questionable employment history and various murky business dealings.
“Rep. Carlos Tobon has repeatedly violated the Rhode Island Code of Ethics and should be held accountable for his actions,” Rhode Island GOP chairwoman Sue Cienki said in a statement issued after filing the complaint.
“We can no longer allow this blatant disregard for following the law to continue,” she said.
The Ethics Commission is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, and its agenda includes an item for executive session so the commission’s staff can share its decision to proactively open a preliminary investigation into an unnamed public official. It is unclear what sparked the relatively rare action.
Under Rhode Island’s Code of Ethics, state lawmakers are required to file annual financial disclosures detailing their private business activities, an effort to provide transparency for the public. The forms are filed under penalty of perjury.
“For at least the past six years, Tobon has repeatedly failed to disclose various personal debts,” GOP officials argued in the complaint.
The state ethics law requires public officials to disclose personal debt in excess of $1,000, in an effort to help the public better understand whether a policymaker is beholden to anyone financially.
Common Cause Rhode Island executive director John Marion said recently, “You can’t know if a public official has a financial conflict of interest without knowing basic information about their finances.”
“Financial disclosure tells us, among other things, who a public official is in business with and whether they have any debts,” he said. “Those are important facts for the public to know so they can be confident that public officials are serving the public interest and not using their public position to benefit their business partners or creditors.”
The GOP specifically cited tens of thousands of dollars Tobon still owes to a childhood friend, a former colleague and an ex-girlfriend as among the debts he hasn’t reported on his ethics forms.
Tobon and his wife have also incorporated a string of businesses that the GOP alleges were not reported properly on his ethics forms. In one example, Tobon listed an insurance company as his source of income – but the business has never been registered to do business with the state.
In another part of the complaint, the GOP accused Tobon of not properly disclosing some real estate properties, and that he failed to report his and his wife’s ownership interests in various companies.
“The Ethics Commission must engage in a detailed investigation of Tobon’s personal finances,” GOP officials said. “The public deserves to know exactly how their elected officials make money, what businesses and properties they own, and to whom they are indebted.”
Tobon — who did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday — has previously said he hadn’t intended to conceal his financial woes from voters.
“I wasn’t hiding anything,” he said in an interview for Target 12’s report. “I never thought that one had to do with the other. As politicians, we are not perfect. I’m human.”
Tobon’s most recent ethics disclosure for this year was due at the end of last month, but Ethics Commission officials said he has received a 60-day extension. He has been absent from the House since Target 12’s report aired on May 5.
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