Rep. Carnevale residency challenge could be ‘fairly quick,’ attorney says

Rep. John Carnevale wrapped his face while undercover surveillance cameras were rolling.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A veteran town solicitor says residency challenges to voter registration, such as the one against state Rep. John Carnevale that Providence officials will take up Tuesday, are rare but usually decided quickly.

The Providence Board of Canvassers meets Tuesday morning at City Hall to determine whether there is enough “reasonable cause” to pursue a hearing into questions surrounding the residency of Carnevale, D-Providence, in the wake of an undercover Target 12 investigation last week.

Attorney Anthony DeSisto, who has worked as a town solicitor in various communities for several decades, said the process is “usually fairly quick.”

“By quick I mean it’s weeks as opposed to months,” DeSisto said. “When these challenges are made there is an effort to resolve this before an election, because if that does happen it calls into question election results, which nobody wants.”

DeSisto – who is currently solicitor in Tiverton, Lincoln and Warren – said the person whose residency is being challenged does not need to appear at the initial determination meeting, but will if it moves into a full hearing.

At the full hearing the board “can take testimony, administer oaths, and they can subpoena in witnesses and other evidence,” DeSisto told Target 12.

Last week the Rhode Island Republican Party filed a complaint with the Board of Canvassers challenging Carnevale’s voter registration on the basis that he is not a resident of Providence. Chairman Brandon Bell took the action in the wake of a Target 12 report that showed Carnevale spending much of his time at a Johnston property outside his district that he owns but failed to disclose to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission as required. He belatedly corrected nine years of ethics filings just as the story was about to air.

Target 12 also revealed two ex-tenants at Carnevale’s claimed residence, 150 Barbara St. in Providence, said they were instructed to claim he lived there if asked, even though they say he did not. He also signed a mortgage document in 2007 pledging to make the Johnston property his primary residence.

Over the weekend constituents in Carnevale’s district received a letter from him defending himself.

In the letter the lawmaker acknowledged that undercover footage shows him wrapping his face in what he says was a towel after he appears to spot surveillance cameras. But he insisted he did so because of his allergies.

“At the time of the secret filming I was at the property to cut the front lawn and upon walking out of the front door observed a man using a weed whacker across the street,” he wrote. “Observing the dust and pollen in the air around the unknown man reminded me to re-enter the house and wrap a towel about my face to filter the dust/pollen from the air.”

The constituent letter made no mention of Carnevale’s nine-year failure to disclose the Johnston property to the Ethics Commission, nor did it address the ex-tenants’ testimony or the mortgage document.

Larry Berman, a spokesman for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, said taxpayer resources at the State House were not used for the letter.

“There was absolutely no staff involvement or cost to the taxpayers,” Berman said in an email. “This was sent out by Rep. Carnevale on his own.”

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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