Ex-council candidate: I did not commit election fraud

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A former Providence City Council candidate accused of mail ballot fraud said Friday “I should have done my homework before running” for office, but claimed he fully expects to be exonerated of any wrongdoing.

Franchesco Franco, who finished third in a three-way Democratic primary for the Ward 11 City Council seat last September, said he’s only guilty of not paying close enough attention to his volunteers during the final weeks of his failed campaign.

“This was my first time in politics,” Franco, who goes by Francisco, told WPRI.com. “Did I find out that some of my volunteers were not desirable people? Yes.”

Franco, 24, and his campaign manager, Migdalia Rivera, were charged by State Police this week with violating a host of elections laws, including mail ballot fraud. Franco was also accused of voting from a false residence, a charge he denies.

Franco said he has had no communication with Rivera and doesn’t know whether she was involved with the crimes she is accused of.

He acknowledged that he didn’t have enough oversight over his campaign volunteers, but declined to say whether he was aware of any crimes they may have committed. No one other than Franco and Rivera has been charged.

“I still believe 100% I’m going to come out of this clean,” Franco said. He was released on $10,000 personal recognizance and is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 16. His lawyer is James McCormick.

A court affidavit obtained by WPRI.com shows State Police interviewed dozens of witnesses and confirmed that 38 mail ballots tied to Franco were fraudulent. One witness told investigators that Franco told her she was not allowed to complete her mail ballot in pen. (The ballot requires a voter to use a No. 2 pencil.)

Investigators also encountered voters who said Franco encouraged them to vote by mail rather than in person – which isn’t a crime under state law – and others who said Franco assisted them in completing their ballots.

Franco, who earned just 18% of the vote in the primary, acknowledged “we were aggressive with mail ballots,” but denied he did anything illegal. By the final two weeks of the campaign, he said, he had thrown in the towel on the race.

“Too much pressure,” he said.

Ward 11, which includes Upper South Providence and the West End neighborhoods, was one of the most hotly contested council races in the city in 2014. Mary Kay Harris defeated incumbent Davian Sanchez and Franco in the primary before knocking off Republican Roy David Bolden in the general election.

This report has been updated.

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

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