PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Ethics Commission voted Tuesday to authorize an investigation into state Rep. Carlos Tobon to determine whether he violated the state’s Code of Ethics when he failed to disclose personal debts and business activities to voters.
The commission voted 6-0 to launch the probe based on a complaint filed last month by the Rhode Island Republican Party. The GOP alleges Tobon, a Pawtucket Democrat, repeatedly violated the ethics code when he failed to list thousands of dollars in personal debt on annual disclosure forms, which politicians must submit to the Ethics Commission.
“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 after filing the complaint last month.
Tobon, who was first elected to state office in 2014, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But he has previously defended his actions, arguing it was never his intention to mislead anyone.
The GOP complaint was filed in the wake of a Target 12 investigation that revealed a long line of people who say they got burned doing business with Tobon. The GOP specifically cited tens of thousands of dollars Tobon still owes to a childhood friend, a former colleague and an ex-friend that were revealed in the story.
John Marion, the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, said Tuesday’s vote is “an initial step and all it tells us is that the Ethics Commission agrees that there is enough in the GOP’s complaint to start investigating.”
“What the Ethics Commission might find — and because of their subpoena power sometimes they find more than is in initial news reports — won’t be known for some time,” he added.
Since the investigation, Tobon has amended several ethics filings from past years to include multiple debtors and business entities that were not previously disclosed. He has also amended his voter registration to list his current residence rather than his parents’ home.
Tobon has not shown up for any House sessions since the story came out. After Target 12’s report aired he resigned almost immediately from several legislative positions, including the powerful House Finance Committee, at the request of Speaker Joe Shekarchi.
Multiple other people have since announced they plan to run for his seat. Tobon did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether he plans to run for re-election.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.