PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The new president of the Providence branch of the NAACP has been charged with failing to file campaign finance reports, Attorney General Peter Neronha announced Thursday.
The two criminal charges stem from Gerard Catala’s unsuccessful run for Providence City Council this past fall. The R.I. Board of Elections had referred Catala to the AG for potential prosecution last year, after investigating Catala’s campaign finance account from his previous run four years earlier.
“This office is committed to stepping in at the request of the Board of Elections when candidates for public office blithely and repeatedly ignore the Rhode Island’s campaign finance laws,” Neronha said in a statement. “Those laws exist for many reasons, among them to provide transparency into how candidates are financing their campaigns and whether they are doing so legally.”
Catala, 44, was not charged in connection with the 2018 election because the statute of limitations was up, according to Neronha’s office. The Board of Elections had alleged last summer that Catala’s campaign account contained more than $7,000 worth of spending that was not accounted for on campaign finance reports. State law requires political candidates to submit reports detailing all donations and expenditures.
The elections board’s audit was prompted by Catala’s failure to file a series of campaign finance reports in 2018.
Neronha’s office said that even as prosecutors were reviewing the 2018 case, Catala proceeded to fail to file the mandatory campaign finance reports on Aug. 16 and Sept. 6 of 2022, which were due ahead of the Sept. 13 primary.
“Failure to file such reports, after repeated directives from the Board of Elections to file them, can lead only to one place: criminal prosecution,” Neronha said.
While under investigation by the attorney general’s office, Catala was elected president of the Providence branch of the NAACP, beating out longtime president Jim Vincent.
Catala has run for the Ward 9 council seat three times, never successfully. This past fall he lost in the Democratic primary to Juan Pichardo, who went on to win the seat.
In an affidavit for an arrest warrant filed by the the R.I. State Police financial crimes unit, Cpl. James Brown wrote that Catala’s failure to comply with campaign finance law stems back to his first campaign in 2014, when he failed to file the required reports and racked up $10,000 in fines, which were later waived when he filed the reports three years late.
For the 2018 campaign, the Board of Elections said he again did not file the required reports, prompting the audit into the thousands of dollars spent from his campaign account. Catala finally filed the 2018 reports in August 2022, while running for office again, but the reports were incomplete and did not itemize his campaign donations or expenditures, according to the affidavit.
“These actions fall outside the three-year statute of limitations,” Brown wrote.
Reached by phone, Catala did not immediately comment but said he would call back.
The AG’s office said Catala was arraigned at the State Police barracks on Thursday, and is due in court to face a judge next week.
Steph Machado (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.