Former Cicilline Campaign Volunteer Received $103,000 PEDP Loan
Monday, August 27, 2012
The man seen in an undercover video telling a campaign staffer for Congressional candidate Anthony Gemma that he could deliver mail ballot votes in exchange for $500 per week received a $103,000 taxpayer-funded loan for a restaurant from the city of Providence in 2004, GoLocalProv has learned.
The 17-minute clip shot by investigators working for Gemma shows Erasmo Ramirez, a 66-year-old male who has become well-known in his community for his involvement in local political races over the last decade, explaining that he can personally notarize absentee ballots and can use his influence to convince voters to support Gemma.
But less than 20 months after Cicilline took office, El Portal Family Restaurant, which listed Ramirez as its president in its corporate filing, received a $103,000 loan from the Providence Economic Development Partnership (PEDP), the controversial city loan fund which critics have called a “slush fund” for Cicilline.
Records show the loan came with a four percent interest rate and the PEDP lists it as paid off, although the restaurant had its certificate revoked in 2005 after failing to file its annual report with the Secretary of State’s office.
Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers said Ramirez was one of “hundreds of volunteers” in a race that took place a decade ago and pointed out that the loan was the same one “many businesses received” andthat it was “thoroughly vetted by loan committee of financial experts and community bankers like they approve every loan.” Hyers also said Cicilline helped revamp the PEDP by creating a loan committee in the first place.
Hyers also tore into the Gemma campaign for continuing its attempt to tie the Congressman to an extensive voter fraud effort over the last decade.
“For a week now Anthony Gemma has run an outrageous smear campaign that has failed to produce a single shred of evidence that David Cicilline has done anything wrong,” Hyers said. “This circus really has to end.”
Former Council Candidate Demands Apology
Last week, Gemma announced that he has hired a private investigative firm run by former State Troopers to look into voter fraud in the capital city. Gemma, who claims he wasn’t the person who leaked the mail ballot video to the Journal, has also met with the State Police to discuss the findings of his investigation.
After the video was posted to YouTube Saturday, former Providence City Council candidate Hamlet Miguel Lopez said there was nothing inappropriate about anything Ramirez was doing and demanded the Gemma campaign issue an apology. He described Ramirez as a well-respected man who “has always helped people in the community.” Ramirez is also one of three members of the District 10 State Rep. Committee (the Rep. is Scott Slater) and his son is a Providence Police Officer.
“Anthony Gemma has gone too far with his fraud accusations and his investigations to try to find ‘dirt’ on his opponent,” Lopez said. “It's offensive how he is going after the Hispanic community and accusing them of voter fraud without real proof.”
Doherty Campaign: Loan “Only Furthers Distrust”
The voter fraud accusations aside, the fact that Ramirez received a PEDP loan after volunteering on Cicilline’s 2002 Mayoral campaign is a cause for concern for Republican Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty.
The Doherty campaign has been highly critical of Cicilline’s handling of the PEDP (the Mayor serves as the board’s chairman), which ran up a 60 percent default over the last decade. In a report issued by the Department of Housing & Urban Development last month, the city was criticized for its “inadequate oversight” over the PEDP.
Doherty campaign manager Ian Prior said the loan is another example of why Cicilline cannot be trusted to “responsibly manage” taxpayer funds.
"Without even getting into the extremely concerning substance of the video, the fact that Erasmo Ramirez was a Cicilline volunteer in 2002 and two years later received a $103,000 federal loan from PEDP only furthers the distrust that many Rhode Islanders rightfully have for Congressman Cicilline and what appears to be a pattern of handing out taxpayer money to those who have helped him in his rise to power,” Prior said.
Hyers said he isn’t surprised to hear the Doherty campaign focus on issues like the PEDP.
“What Brendan Doherty does not want to talk about is who he’ll stand with in Washington,” Hyers said. “They’re going to desperately latch on to anything that has nothing to do with Washington.”
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