A would-be Rhode Island state official stole funds from the nonprofit

Laufton Ascencao, who was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives in 2018 but never took office, pleaded nolo contendere to one count of embezzlement, three counts of failing to report expenses of campaign and a failure leader to have a duly appointed treasurer other than himself certify the accuracy of his campaign finance reports, according to a release from the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office.

The embezzlement charge stems from Ascencao’s time as treasurer of the Rhode Island chapter of the Sierra Club, Providence, RI In 2018, Ascencao allegedly embezzled $16,379 from the Sierra Club’s checking account, which he used to pay for his 2018 campaign for Rhode State Rep. Island House District 68. Ascencao, a Democrat, won his race but never sat.

Ascencao was given a five-year suspended sentence with probation and ordered to pay $13,387.70 in restitution to the Rhode Island chapter of the Sierra Club. Ascencao previously refunded $2,992 to the chapter. The restitution represents the balance of what he had diverted from the association. He was also fined $1,000.

Ascencao’s embezzlement was discovered by leaders of the Rhode Island chapter of the Sierra Club after he won the seat in November 2018. He was immediately removed from his volunteer duties and he walked away from his seat at the Rhode Island House before being sworn in. Democrat June Speakman was elected to the seat in a special election.

In addition to his role with the Sierra Club, Ascencao had been an organizer and lobbyist with the Rhode Island Working Families Party, according to The Journal of Providence. The two organizations shared offices, The Journal of Providence reported.

In addition to charges of embezzlement, Ascencao has faced campaign finance violations, including failing to report $3,357 he spent on a campaign manager and campaign cards — mini flyers used to present a candidate to voters. By not reporting the expenses, Ascencao had hoped to conceal that they were paid from the checking account of the Rhode Island chapter of the Sierra Club, according to the statement from the Rhode Island attorney general’s office.

“As I have said before, obscuring the truth in campaign finance is not about the amount of money involved,” Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha said in a statement. “It’s not even about the cheap behavior that some political operatives bring to campaigns. It’s about the public trust in government that we lose when this happens, and the enormous damage it does to our state.

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