Grand jury subpoena issued for Council President Aponte records

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The city of Providence received a grand jury subpoena last month for payroll records related to Council President Luis Aponte, Target 12 has learned.

Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for the city, confirmed the subpoena was issued March 10. She said the city complied with the request, but declined to comment further.

It is unclear what specifically the grand jury is investigating. But commissioners for the R.I. Board of Elections voted in September to forward a report about Aponte to Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office, saying they had reason to believe Aponte and Gwendolyn J. Buckley Andrade, his campaign treasurer and ex-wife, violated Rhode Island’s campaign finance law, which prohibits the use of campaign funds for personal expenses.

A spokesperson for the attorney general said his office could neither confirm nor deny the existence of a grand jury. Crowell wouldn’t say whether the subpoena came from a state or federal grand jury. R.I. State Police Maj. Joseph Philbin said an investigation is active.

Aponte, a Democrat, was elected to the City Council in 1998 and represents Ward 10 in the city’s Washington Park neighborhood. He has served as president of the 15-member legislative body since 2015, earning $20,850 a year, the same amount as Majority Leader Bryan Principe. The rest of the council members are paid $18,765 annually.

Artin Coloian, Aponte’s lawyer, declined to comment Tuesday. Aponte did not immediately respond to a request for comment

Aponte has a long history of campaign finance violations. In 2005, the Board of Elections was awarded a civil judgment against Aponte for $14,000 for delinquent campaign finance report filings. The judgment was increased to $19,700 two years later after he was found in contempt. The board said the judgment was paid in full in 2014, but as of last September Aponte still faced $47,916 in penalties for more late filings.

The Board of Elections’ decision to refer the case to the attorney general was not related to Aponte’s late filings, however. It was related to how Aponte spent campaign funds.

After reviewing Aponte’s campaign bank records, Richard Thornton, the state’s director of campaign finance, said he found a $13,942 discrepancy between what was actually in the account and what Aponte was reporting in his quarterly finance reports. Aponte said he reimbursed the campaign for the full amount using a personal loan from Buckley Andrade.

The board’s report states that Aponte provided “no source documentation or receipts” to support the $13,942 in expenditures, so the board subpoenaed his bank records. In an affidavit, Buckley Andrade stated that all of Aponte’s campaign bank records were destroyed in 2013 when a shredding company she hired to remove her late father’s personal documents also took Aponte’s records.

Thornton conducted a review of Aponte’s campaign expenses and personal bank account expenses from December 2013 through December 2015, and the report stated that it “suggests that campaign funds were used for personal expenses, particularly during periods when there were insufficient funds in his personal bank account.”

Separately, the R.I. Ethics Commission voted in January to find probable cause that Aponte violated the state code of ethics when he twice voted in favor of the zoning change for a property owned by his former landlord last year. The commission’s next step in the process is to either reach a settlement with Aponte or adjudicate the matter.

Aponte is not the only member of the council facing scrutiny from law enforcement. Councilman Kevin Jackson, Ward 3, was arrested last year on charges that he embezzled funds from a youth sports organization and misused campaign funds. He has pleaded not guilty, A group of Jackson’s constituents are attempting to recall him from office.

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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