As Fox heads to prison, questions still surround his campaign account

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It is still unclear how much money disgraced former House Speaker Gordon Fox has left in his political spending account.

A Target 12 review of R.I. Board of Elections filings shows Fox reported having $244,589 in his campaign account as of Feb. 2, 2015. But he is more than two months behind on his last report and has never amended any filings in which prosecutors say he overstated the account balance in order to “hide his diversion of campaign funds to pay for prohibited personal expenses.”

Fox was scheduled to report to a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday to begin serving a three-year sentence for bribery, wire fraud and filing a false tax return. His plea agreement with prosecutors was approved by U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi last month.

Under state law, campaign accounts are required to remain open until all existing funds are drawn down, according to Richard Thornton, the Board of Elections’ director of campaign finance. That means Fox will be required to file quarterly reports with the state or else incur a fine.

Thornton told Target 12 Fox already owes the state $131 for failing to file his most recent report on May 7 and filing two other reports late. The board fines those who fail to file campaign finance reports $25 per late report and $2 per day for failing to respond to the board’s “notice of non-compliance.”

In other words, every day Fox fails to file his report, the fine will grow. The two largest debtors to the board, former state Sens. Patrick T. McDonald and John Celona, have each served prison sentences. They owe the state a combined $406,000 for past-due campaign reports, records show.

Albin Moser, one of Fox’s lawyers and the appointed treasurer of the former speaker’s campaign account, told Target 12 he sent an email to the board in June seeking guidance on which filings still need to be made. He said the board never responded to his email.

“If there is a late report, then I will get it filed soon,” Moser said.

Although Fox last reported holding $244,589 in his campaign fund, federal prosecutors say he regularly filed misleading reports with the board in an attempt to hide his use of the account to cover personal expenses. At the close of 2013, Fox reported $212,060 in his campaign account but actually had only $52,403 on hand, investigators found.

Fox admitted he took more than $108,000 from his campaign finance account between 2008 and 2014 and illegally used the funds to pay his mortgage, make car loan payments and cover American Express card expenditures at Tiffany’s, Urban Outfitters and the Warwick Animal Hospital. In addition to filing misleading campaign reports, prosecutors say he filed a false tax return to cover it up.

“When you ask people for money for campaign funds, and use it for something else, you’ve lied to them,” U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha said the day Fox pleaded guilty. “There is no other way to say it. You’ve committed fraud.”

When asked how much Fox actually has in his campaign account, Moser said the former speaker “left some documentation” for him before reporting to prison.

“I’ll take inventory when I receive it and review it,” Moser said. “I’ll then prepare and file the reports, which will set forth the amount.”

After Fox’s plea agreement was announced, Rhode Island lawmakers approved several laws designed to deter politicians from deliberately filing inaccurate campaign reports.

One bill requires candidates and officeholders to provide end-of-year bank statement to the board; another prohibits commingling campaign and personal bank accounts; and the third prevents anyone who raises or spends at least $10,000 from serving as the treasurer of his or her campaign, as Fox did.

 

Target 12 will have more exclusive details tonight at 6 on WPRI 12.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau

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