NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — The scandal engulfing Sabina Matos’s congressional campaign worsened on Wednesday, with the Democratic lieutenant governor now facing multiple criminal investigations into forged signatures on her nomination papers amid growing questions about election integrity in Rhode Island.

The Newport Canvassing Authority voted Wednesday to refer multiple forgery allegations to police after Target 12 first reported residents coming forward saying their names and signatures had shown up on Matos nomination papers they never signed.

It’s the second criminal probe into signatures for the Matos campaign launched this week, after Jamestown officials took the same step on Monday. By the end of the day Wednesday, Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office announced the state’s top prosecutor was “taking the lead” in investigating the Matos campaign’s signatures statewide.

After reviewing Matos ballot papers that included his name, home address and purported signature, Newport resident Perrin Tysor told Target 12: “I never signed nomination papers for anybody.”

Katysha Lopez said her mother’s signature was also forged on Matos’s paperwork, and expressed frustration that the lieutenant governor’s campaign was apparently using the names of voters without their consent.

“I’m really upset and it’s sad it’s happening,” she told Target 12. “I can’t believe somebody even forged it.”

Matos is one of 12 Democrats certified for the Sept. 5 primary ballot to replace David Cicilline representing the 1st Congressional District. To qualify for the ballot, candidates must collect at least 500 valid signatures.

As of Wednesday, R.I. Secretary of State Gregg Amore’s office said Matos had collected 728 valid signatures, giving her a cushion of more than 200 surplus signatures before she would get knocked off the ballot.

Still, the daily revelations of more forgeries has raised doubts about how many of the Matos signatures validated by local Boards of Canvassers will withstand further scrutiny.

One of her Democratic rivals, Jamestown investor and academic Donald Carlson, filed an official challenge Wednesday requesting that state and local election officials review all of the lieutenant governor’s nomination papers across the 1st District’s 19 cities and towns.

“Preliminary investigation has uncovered demonstrably fraudulent signatures on Matos’ nomination papers in at least two separate jurisdictions — including instances of signatures of people who have died, people who have moved away and people who deny ever signing these nomination papers,” Carlson campaign manager Nicholas Marroletti wrote in the challenge, filed with the secretary of state’s office.

‘Deeply troubled’

Local election officials in Jamestown were the first to discover the problems with Matos’s signatures, referring the matter to town police on Monday.

Brian Hodge, a spokesperson for the attorney general, said Jamestown authorities “reached out to us and we are working with them on this matter.”

Target 12 has reached out to dozens of people listed in Matos nomination papers in several other communities and so far 10 have responded saying they never signed the paperwork.

In East Providence, Councilman Rick Lawson initially said he did sign Matos nomination papers during a city fireworks event. But he became confused when asked why he listed his home address as City Hall at 145 Taunton Ave.

After Target 12 sent him a copy of the document showing his signature, Lawson said it didn’t belong to him, and that he’d signed papers collected by a different campaign worker.

“It is not my signature,” he said, explaining he signs his name “R.A. Lawson” rather than the “Rick Lawson” displayed on the campaign papers.

Lawson’s name is listed on the Matos ballot paperwork alongside the names of every other East Providence City Council member, including Frank Fogarty, whose home address is similarly listed as City Hall.

Fogarty didn’t immediately respond to Target 12’s request for comment Wednesday.

In Barrington, Kenneth and Dillion Renzi told Target 12 they never signed Matos’s nomination papers, despite their names being included in her paperwork there.

Barrington’s canvassers accepted both of the Renzi names as valid. A town clerk — who would only provide her first name, Linda — said all nomination papers had already been submitted to the secretary of state’s office, and town officials had not taken any action because they hadn’t received any complaints about faulty signatures.

Most of the nomination papers in question were collected by the same Matos campaign staffer, Holly McClaren, described by the campaign as “a paid hourly field organizer.” Matos spokesperson Evan England, who notarized McClaren’s own signature on the documents, said Wednesday she is no longer employed by the Matos campaign.

McClaren is no stranger to Rhode Island politics: she made a memorable appearance in one of Gov. Dan McKee’s campaign TV ads last fall, as one of a number of average Rhode Islanders telling his Republican rival Ashley Kalus she wasn’t from Rhode Island. (McKee appointed Matos as lieutenant governor, and she hired his former campaign manager to run her congressional bid this year.)

“While it is clear we have submitted more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, I am deeply troubled by what has been reported in the news,” Matos said in a statement Wednesday.

One of Matos’s Democratic opponents, Gabe Amo, called for a full investigation into the scale of the problem with her ballot signatures.

“There has been no accountability from the lieutenant governor,” Amo said in a statement. “It is shocking and disturbing that the lieutenant governor has not held a press conference to take questions directly from the press nor spoken directly to Rhode Islanders.”

He added, “These instances of election fraud are a distraction from the issues facing Rhode Islanders in this election for our next member of Congress.”

‘Cast in doubt’

A Target 12 review of Matos documents shows McClaren collected more than 320 names.

Local election officials rejected about half of McClaren’s signatures for various reasons, such as mismatched signatures, but several people flagged by Target 12 had their names accepted and officially counted by local canvassers.

McClaren — whose own signature was rejected on a Matos ballot document because she, like Matos, actually lives in the 2nd Congressional District — has not returned multiple calls for comment. She did not come to the door when Target 12 visited her Providence home on Wednesday.

In its complaint, the Carlson campaign argued the state needs to review all of Matos’s paperwork in part to protect the integrity of the election process, saying officials must “preserve the credibility of Rhode Island’s electoral process.”

Amore’s office receives all nomination papers from municipal election boards, where local officials are supposed to vet signatures. The secretary of state argued “the identification of the fraudulent signatures — while troubling — shows the system is working”

“The validation process is identifying attempts to defraud the system and the local boards of canvassers are disqualifying ineligible signatures,” he said. “Voters should have confidence in the processes of the local boards of canvassers, the Board of Elections, and the RI Department of State to ensure our elections are fair and secure.”

The Board of Election has scheduled a Friday meeting to discuss objections made against nomination papers. Georgia Hollister Isman of the R.I. Working Families Party, which supports Democrat Aaron Regunberg in the congressional race, has also filed a complaint against the Matos campaign.

“Many hard-working volunteers across many campaigns had face-to-face conversations with hundreds of voters to gain the signatures needed for candidates in this race,” Isman wrote in the challenge. “Their hard work and the democratic process itself is cast in doubt if the state does not carefully investigate all the signatures collected by an actor who seems clearly to not have been acting in good faith.”

Eli Sherman ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Tim White ( 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 ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence and more for 12 News. Connect with her on X, formerly known as Twitter and on Facebook.

Kate Wilkinson ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Ted Nesi and Jacqueline Gomersall contributed to this report.