PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A defense attorney for embattled former state Rep. John Carnevale said Friday the Rhode Island State Police lost or “destroyed” hundreds of hours of undercover surveillance in the case.
The lawyer, William Dimitri, said at a hearing before Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo that he was informed by prosecutors more than 1,400 hours of undercover surveillance the state police conducted on Carnevale was not backed up and was recorded over.
“Knowing they were investigating this, I think it is inexcusable, and I am seeking further discovery at this point,” Dimitri said outside court. “I think it is going to be an issue should this case go to trial.”
The new development comes as Carnevale is running to reclaim his old General Assembly seat.
Following a 2016 Target 12 investigation that raised questions about where Carnevale lived, state police detectives set up two “pole cameras” outside the Providence home in which Carnevale claimed to reside, according to a court filing. The cameras – a common practice in undercover investigations by the state police – are attached to telephone poles and continuously record on a set location.
In court, Dimitri told the judge the two cameras were operating for a 30-day period, and that Detective James Brown told the grand jury that the video showed Carnevale was only at the Barbara Street home on three occasions.
However, Dimitri said he has neighbors in the Silver Lake neighborhood which Carnevale represented between 2008 and 2016 who are prepared to testify that they frequently saw Carnevale at the home.
“There were witnesses that say John's car was there three or four nights a week - he slept there,” Dimitri said. “To me [the video] is very important because it goes to the basic gist of these charges as to whether or not John was living there."
Judge Gallo agreed to continue the case until July 26 and ordered the attorney general’s office to comply with any discovery requests by the defense team within 10 days.
“It’s a bit disconcerting to learn the police conducted a month of surveillance with pole cameras and the tapes were not preserved,” Gallo said. “I’m not sure how that is going to change by a continuance. Either the tapes are available or they’re not.”
Rhode Island State Police Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin said “we stand by the investigation and the charges brought forward against Mr. Carnevale.”
"Whatever information was lost happened in 2016 when those pole cameras were moved to another investigation because we thought the criminal investigation was over," he added.
Amy Kempe, a spokesperson for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, said in an email that "the state is prepared to move forward with the case."
Dimitri said he was told the video on the pole cameras is preserved for only 30 days and gets recorded over again if it is not backed up.
The hearing on Friday was originally scheduled to inform the judge whether Carnevale was going to accept a plea agreement that was offered by the attorney general’s office. Details of the agreement were not discussed, but it would have included a plea of no contest if Carnevale agreed to the terms, according to Dimitri.
Carnevale declined to talk outside court, but Dimitri said they decided to ask for more time to consider their options after learning the video had vanished.
“Anything is possible. I am not saying he is going to trial, I’m not saying he's going to plead nolo,” Dimitri said. “We have further talking to do.”
Carnevale, 56, was indicted last year on three felony counts of perjury and one misdemeanor charge of filing a false document after the Target 12 investigation. Investigators say Carnevale lied to Providence election officials about where he lived.
Carnevale claimed he slept in the basement of the Barbara Street home and would use his tenant’s bathroom on the first floor. Target 12 undercover video showed the lawmaker spent much of his time at a different home he owned in Johnston, outside his district.
Following days of hearings before the Providence Board of Canvassers, election officials determined Carnevale did not live in the district and removed him from the voter rolls. Carnevale then dropped out of his re-election bid.
Last month, the Democrat announced he decided he was going to run again in an attempt to win his old seat back. He is challenging incumbent state Rep. Ramon Perez and Mario Mendez in a Democratic primary, and his comeback bid was endorsed by the local Democratic committee last month.
Dan McGowan contributed to this report.
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