JAMESTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – Jamestown election officials have asked the police to look into the possibility that fraudulent signatures were submitted on behalf of the Sabina Matos campaign in the race to replace former Congressman David Cicilline.

Jamestown Board of Canvassers Clerk Keith Ford confirmed his office reached out to police, and the issue appeared on the agenda for a board meeting Monday morning as “possible fraudulent nomination papers.”

The signatures submitted to town hall on July 12 were gathered by a supporter of the Matos campaign, Target 12 has learned. The potential fraud was first reported by The Providence Journal.

Reached by phone, Brexton Isaacs — Matos’ campaign manager — said he was unaware of the investigation. Later he sent a statement that said they “hold all our staff and volunteers to the highest ethical standards.”

“That is why these reports are both surprising and concerning,” Isaacs said. “We want to thank the boards of canvassers across the state for the valuable work they are doing.”

The investigation is another setback for Matos, who’d been viewed as the frontrunner in the race but significantly lagged multiple rival Democrats in fundraising reports filed Saturday.

In a news release, interim police chief Angela Deneault said her agency has initiated an investigation.

“Upon review by the canvassing clerk, several discrepancies were discovered with the voter names and signatures that appeared on the form which led the Clerk to file a report with the Jamestown Police Department,” said Deneault. 

A Target 12 review of the names submitted to Jamestown election officials shows at least one of the names appears to be of someone who had died. The document was notarized by Evan England, a Matos campaign spokesperson.

Candidates running in the 1st Congressional District race had to submit signatures to local town halls by Friday afternoon. To get on the ballot, a candidate is required to collect 500 valid signatures on nomination papers.

City and town election officials have until Tuesday to validate the signatures and deliver nomination papers to the secretary of state’s office. The signatures will then be certified by the state.

Campaigns often hire someone to canvass a community to collect signatures ahead of the deadline.

As of midday on Monday, 15 candidates had provided more than 500 signatures, according to the secretary of state’s website. The candidates included:

  • Gabe Amo (D)
  • Nick Autiello (D)
  • Stephanie Beaute (D)
  • Walter Berbrick (D)
  • Sandra Cano (D)
  • Don Carlson (D)
  • Steve Casey (D)
  • Spencer Dickinson (D)
  • Terri Flynn (R)
  • John Goncalves (D)
  • Gerry Leonard (R)
  • Sabina Matos (D)
  • Ana Quezada (D)
  • Aaron Regunberg (D)
  • Allen Waters (D)

A spokesperson for Amo immediately took aim at Matos, writing in a statement, “the news that the police are investigating Lt. Governor Sabina Matos’ campaign for submitting fraudulent signatures, some of which belong to dead Rhode Islanders, is a disturbing development in her campaign.”

Chelsea Decesare, a spokesperson for Carlson, also issued a pointed statement writing, “we should all be deeply concerned by this betrayal of the electoral process. This calculated pattern of deception began with her false endorsements – Rhode Islanders deserve better.”

Cicilline stunned the Rhode Island politics when he announced in February that he was stepping down midterm to become president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation. A flurry of potential candidates then began throwing their hats into the ring.

The primary is scheduled for Sept. 5 followed by the general election on Nov. 7.

The September primary could be the more important of the two dates in the heavily Democratic 1st District, with the winner of the party’s primary strongly favored to win in November.

Filing false signatures is a felony under Rhode Island law that comes with a potential maximum penalty of 10 years behind bars and a potential fine of up to $5,000.

This isn’t the first time police in Jamestown have looked into a signature scandal.

Last year two men were charged with faking signatures on nomination papers for a teenage Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate.

They were charged with providing a false document to a public official and conspiracy.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Ted Nesi contributed to this report