Jamestown police investigating Matos campaign for alleged signature fraud
The Jamestown Board of Canvassers has turned over nomination forms from one 1st Congressional District candidate to local police after detecting alleged fraudulent signatures. (Janine L. Weisman/Rhode Island Current)
The Jamestown Police Department is investigating potentially fake signatures submitted by Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’ campaign in the 1st Congressional District race.
The police investigation was spurred by the island community’s Board of Canvassers, which asked police to look into the signatures on a candidate’s nomination papers after spotting several “discrepancies” on the form, according to a Monday statement from the police department. That includes the name of at least one known dead person, Carol Nelson-Lee, chairperson of the board of the canvassers, told Rhode Island Current on Tuesday.
Nelson-Lee, a Democrat, declined to share further details of the signature problems or which candidate they were for, citing the ongoing investigation. Interim Police Chief Angela Deneault declined comment on Tuesday.
Matos has since been revealed as the candidate in question by news reports and fellow candidates, who took to social media to criticize her campaign.
Brexton Isaacs, a spokesperson for the Matos campaign, issued an emailed response calling the reports “surprising and concerning.”
“We hold all our staff and volunteers to the highest ethical standards,” Isaacs wrote. “That is why these reports are both surprising and concerning. We want to thank the boards of canvassers across the state for the valuable work they are doing.”
Nelson-Lee praised Keith Ford, the canvassing board clerk, for spotting the potential fake signatures and bringing it to the board’s attention at a meeting Monday morning attended by three of the board’s four current members. The town’s canvassing board has one vacancy, an alternate member seat designated for a Republican.
“We are very pleased we have such a capable canvassing clerk,” Nelson-Lee said. “He’s a local person with good local knowledge and an excellent example of the value of the work we do.”
Ford had been a dispatcher at the police department until taking his post three weeks ago. He said the police were notified last week.
Asked for a copy of the nomination form with the signatures in question, Ford referred Rhode Island Current to the Secretary of State’s office. Faith Chybowski, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State, said Tuesday that the office had not received the nomination forms.
Ford declined further comment, citing the open police investigation.
Reaction from candidates
Gabe Amo, one of nearly two dozen Democrats vying for the congressional seat, was the first to condemn the Matos campaign for what he called a “disturbing development.”
“Election fraud is a serious violation of the public trust and should be grounds for disqualification from seeking public office,” Amo, a former White House staffer, said in a statement on Monday.
Amo again blasted Matos on Tuesday afternoon for remaining silent in the wake of the signature fraud being linked to her campaign.
“The Lt. Governor needs to address this directly,” Amos said in a statement. “She has been silent on these fake signatures which were notarized by a senior member of her campaign. We do not deserve a silent representative in Congress.”
Don Carlson, a renewable energy investor and Jamestown resident, also criticized Matos’ campaign.
“As a Jamestown voter, I am stunned that Lt. Governor Sabina Matos’s campaign submitted fraudulent nomination papers to the Jamestown Board of Canvassers,” Carlson said in a statement Monday. “We should all be deeply concerned by this betrayal of the electoral process. This calculated pattern of deception began with her false endorsements – Rhode Islanders deserve better.”
Another Democratic candidate, Stephanie Beaute, called for Matos to drop out of the race, saying that her continuing to run will “cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election and erode the confidence of Rhode Island taxpayers in their elected officials,” according to a statement.
State Sen. Sandra Cano also weighed in on Twitter Monday, calling the allegations of fraud “incredibly serious.”
“Voting and elections are the cornerstone of our democracy and any attempts to do an end run around election laws must be held up to the highest levels of scrutiny,” Cano, a Pawtucket Democrat, said in her tweet.
The Secretary of State’s office is expected to finish certifying candidates’ signatures today, which will determine which contenders exceeded the 500-signature minimum needed to make it on the ballot. As of Tuesday morning, Matos had over 700 validated signatures from local boards of canvassers, about 200 of which had been certified by the state.
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