EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. State Police have joined the investigation examining forged signatures filed by the Sabina Matos campaign, as the ongoing scandal has affected a growing number of Rhode Islanders including the entire East Providence City Council.

State Police Col. Darnell Weaver on Thursday told Target 12 the agency is now involved in the widening criminal probe looking at forged signatures found on nomination papers submitted on behalf of Matos across multiple communities.

The lieutenant governor is one of 12 Democrats competing to replace former Congressman David Cicilline, who stepped down earlier this year to lead the Rhode Island Foundation, and had been viewed as the frontrunner heading into the summer.

Matos so far has refused multiple requests for interviews, deciding instead to communicate publicly through a series of prepared statements. Campaign manager Brexton Isaacs said Thursday the campaign is “disappointed and angry to learn of reports that inaccurate signatures were submitted to the campaign.”

But he remained steadfast in insisting the problem wouldn’t prevent Matos from getting her name on the Sept. 5 primary ballot. The R.I. Board of Elections is supposed to decide on the matter at a 2 p.m. meeting on Friday.

“Any insinuation that our campaign in any way encouraged this is simply false and contradictory to the facts,” Isaacs said in a statement.

The state police have begun investigating at the same time R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha told Target 12 his office will examine Matos nomination papers submitted in all 19 municipalities that make up the 1st Congressional District.

Jamestown and Newport election officials have already referred allegations of forged documents to law enforcement. East Providence Captain Mike Rapoza said Thursday they had also received a complaint from the city Canvassing Authority and had referred it to the attorney general.

Meanwhile, Target 12 has interviewed more people who said they are victims of fraudulent signatures in Barrington and East Providence, including all five city councilors in the latter community. The local election officials in East Providence rejected the names for having mismatched signatures.

“It’s not my signature, my name is spelled wrong and the street address makes no sense,” Council President Bob Rodericks told Target 12 on Thursday. “This is a foolish thing that’s so unnecessary.”

Vice President Frank Rego echoed Rodericks, saying the issue is particularly bothersome to him given his 13 years serving on the R.I. Board of Elections, including two years as chairman, between 2003 and 2016.

“It’s not even close to mine,” Rego said after seeing his purported signature. “I don’t take this matter lightly.”

Council members Anna Sousa, Frank Fogarty and Rick Lawson — whose names were all listed alongside Rodericks and Rego — each said they also didn’t sign the nomination papers in question.

“I didn’t sign any papers,” said Fogarty. His and Lawson’s home addresses are listed at City Hall.

East Providence School Committee member Ryan Queenan’s name and purported signature was listed below the councilors’ names. His home address is listed at the East Providence High School baseball field. He did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The signature scandal engulfing the Matos campaign has focused so far on one campaign worker, Holly McClaren, who was responsible for collecting many of the signatures under scrutiny.

But the East Providence nomination papers were submitted by a different campaign worker named Shanna Gallagher. Contacted by phone Thursday afternoon, Gallagher hung up after Target 12 asked her about the Matos campaign.

“Sorry, I cannot comment on this,” she said before hanging up. “Thank you for the phone call.”

(Courtesy: McKee Campaign)

McClaren has not responded to multiple requests for comment and she did not come to the door Wednesday when a reporter visited her home near the State House in Providence.

But McClaren is no stranger to Rhode Island politics, having appeared in a memorable Gov. Dan McKee campaign ad attacking Republican opponent Ashley Kalus last year.

“I can’t vote for Ashley Kalus,” McClaren said in the ad.

The scandal has drawn criticism from Matos’ political rivals, including Democrat Gabe Amo, who said he was “shocked by the absolute refusal of Lieutenant Governor Matos to explain these instances of election fraud committed on behalf of her campaign to concerned Rhode Islanders.” He also challenged the Matos campaign position that they will have enough signatures to make the ballot.

To qualify, candidates must collect 500 signatures. As of Wednesday, Matos had more than 700 validated signatures, although that number could shrink if election officials determine some are invalidated.

“We need to get to the bottom of this by hearing from the lieutenant governor and allowing law enforcement do their jobs,” Amo said. “Rhode Islanders are demanding answers.”

The criticism was echoed by Democratic candidate Aaron Regunberg, who said the Matos campaign has “deflected responsibility and fallen back again and again on an insistence that they’ll make the ballot.”

“But the reality is that the lieutenant governor has taken actions that – whether they were purposeful or the result of a serious lack of oversight and judgment – have undermined faith in our democratic processes at a time when standing up for fair elections has never been more important,” Regunberg said in a statement.

“I think she owes Rhode Islanders an apology, a transparent explanation of how this happened, and a clear plan for how her campaign will make sure that it does not continue undermining our democratic norms and principles moving forward,” he added.

Democratic candidate Donald Carlson, meanwhile, filed an official complaint with state election officials, challenging Matos’ nomination. The RI Working Families Party, which has endorsed Regunberg, filed a similar challenge.

Isaacs said the Matos campaign had done a preliminary review and determined most of the 728 signatures they collected had been validated, arguing legal precedent “makes it clear that signatures authentically submitted and validated will be counted.”

“During her 12 years in office, Sabina has a proven track record of integrity and has the support necessary to win,” Isaacs said in the statement. “The campaign is proud of the strong support we have received over the last four months and we look forward to electing the first Afro-Latina in the nation to Congress.”

The issue of fake signatures showing up in nomination papers has also raised questions about the integrity of the state’s election system. R.I. Secretary of State Gregg Amore said Thursday the vetting system to ensure signatures are valid is largely working in Rhode Island, despite the fact that many names were accepted even though people later said they were fake.

“By and large the system responded in this case,” he said. “Would I say everything worked perfectly? No.”

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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.

Alexandra Leslie, Kate Wilkinson, Ted Nesi and Jacqui Gomersall contributed to this report.