INVESTIGATION: Elorza Failed to Disclose Arrest

Thursday, August 28, 2014


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 Providence mayoral hopeful Jorge Elorza, who has styled himself as the candidate of ethics and transparency, was once arrested for shoplifting at a local store in an incident that has not been fully disclosed to the public, GoLocalProv has learned.  

Elorza, now 37 and a law professor at Roger Williams University, was 18 years old when he stole a shirt from a department store in Warwick in a bid to impress his friends, according to a letter his campaign issued in June and information provided in response to GoLocalProv queries. He eventually pled no contest to a misdemeanor shoplifting charge and was sentenced to 20 hours of community service.

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 Elorza, who is also former housing court judge, says he hasn’t been in trouble with the law since.

But the new revelation is at odds with the public image he has projected of himself as the ethically clean candidate amid a field populated by a two-time felon, former mayor Buddy Cianci, and a city pol, Michael Solomon, who is now under the cloud of a state ethics investigation.   

In a statement, Elorza insisted that his past is not relevant, while the past wrongs of his opponents—alleged or actual—are.

“Cianci was twice convicted of felonies while serving in elected office. Solomon is currently under investigation by the State Ethics Commission, also while holding elected office. I committed a misdemeanor as a teenager, took full responsibility, did my community service, chose to disclose it all publicly, and have never had a legal problem again,” Elorza said, adding that he disclosed it to his campaign co-chairs and campaign manager before they joined.

Elorza shoplifted to ‘impress my friends’

Elorza has gone into some detail about his background in interviews with media and a bio posted on his campaign Web site. He has described how his parents came here illegally. He has discussed the meager life his family eked out on Cranston Street. He’s admitted to nearly failing out of high school. And he’s told of how the murder of a childhood friend led him to renounce a life on Wall Street for public service.

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 But his arrest as an 18-year-old—an adult under state law—has all but been omitted from the public narrative of his campaign. (His record has also been expunged, according to the campaign.)

Asked when it had been publicized, a campaign official said Elorza had brought up the arrest in while speaking to some CCRI students and a group of teenagers at the Rhode Island Training School.  

Elorza also mentions the arrest in a June 20 letter mailed to 7,000 likely voters in the city. In a copy of the letter which was recently obtained by GoLocalProv, Elorza describes the shoplifting incident as a senseless act from which he learned an important life lesson:

“I want to be upfront about a mistake I made years ago as a young man, because I want you to hear the story directly from me. When I was 18 years old, I was caught shoplifting a shirt from a department store. Why did I do it? I don’t have a good answer. Like a lot of teenagers, I wanted to impress my friends. I knew it was the wrong thing to do, and I accepted full responsibility immediately. I faced a judge and served my community service hours …” Elorza writes.

“I learned a valuable lesson and I’ve never been in trouble with the law again,” he concludes.

When asked why Elorza thought it relevant to mention an arrest dating back to 1994 in a letter to voters, campaign manager Marisa O’Gara responded: “Much of his story is about his struggles as a young man, and how he turned his life around. He chose to be forthright about this because he believes strongly in transparency and ethics, and he wants to be completely upfront with the people of Providence. He wants them to hear directly from him how these struggles shaped his vision for Providence.”

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 Arrest could be wild card among remaining undecideds

With less than two weeks left until the September 9 primary, political analysts said it’s hard to predict what impact news of the arrest would have on the race.

For those voters who have already decided on a favorite candidate, news of the arrest is not likely to change their minds, according to Victor Profughi, a veteran political pollster and adjunct professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island.

But it could be a different story for undecided voters. “When it comes to undecideds, they’re really a peculiar, peculiar lot,” Profughi said, saying undecideds are difficult to categorize because they come in “all shapes, sizes, and forms.” While most voters might not care too much, a small segment of undecideds might, Profughi said.

In a close primary race, that could matter, said Joe Fleming, who runs a local polling firm. “Obviously, an arrest in a close election, that could have an impact on it,” Fleming said.

But he said that without more information about the case—and without doing some polling of its own—it would be hard to know how news of Elorza’s brush with the law would affect voters. Some stories that seem like they have legs often go nowhere, Fleming said. “Other things you think are nothing and they grow like crazy,” he added.

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 Republican defends Elorza, other candidates pass

Elorza’s chances for winning the Democratic primary have brightened considerably last week about the third major Democrat in the race, Brett Smiley, dropped out and endorsed him. At a joint press conference, Smiley expressed confidence in Elorza’s promise to run a City Hall that is clean, honest, and ethically above board.

All but one of the remaining major candidates in the race declined to weigh in on news of Elorza’s arrest. Solomon declined comment, while Cianci did not respond to a message seeking comment.

But the sole GOP contender in the race defended Elorza.

“Not relevant, and does not matter. I don’t believe he is hiding anything else. I knew about this a long time ago, someone having passed along the letter,” said Dan Harrop. “I never brought it up since at this stage in his life, after all he has accomplished, it just is not something to discuss.  Just a distraction from the real issues of the city finances, in my opinion. I would prefer he spend his time discussing how he will fix the pension fund—still waiting for that.” 

Stephen Beale can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @bealenews


Related Slideshow: RI Politicians Who Sought Redemption from Misdeeds

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Vincent "Buddy" Cianci

As one of the longest-serving "big city" mayors in United States history, Rhode Island has experienced Cianci's ups and downs for over 21 years.

Now twice-convicted Cianci is once again back in RI's spotlight running as an Independent in the Providence Mayoral race.

Cianci was forced to resign as Mayor in 1984 after being indicted on assault charges.

In April 2001, Cianci was indicted on federal charges of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, witness tampering, and mail fraud.

He served four years in a federal prison.

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Michael Solomon

Providence City Council President and Democratic candidate for Mayor Michael Solomon is currently being investigated by the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. 

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Michael Long, the Providence Ward 1 Republican City Council Candidate, filed a complaint that charged Solomon with 25 violations of the disclosure requirements.

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Dominick Ruggerio

Dominick Ruggerio is the Democratic Majority Leader of the Rhode Island Senate.

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Ruggerio was arrested for shoplifting condoms in 1990. He was not prosecuted.

In 2012, Ruggerio was charged with a DUI.

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John Harwood

In 2002, Former Speaker of the House John Harwood faced unproven sexual misconduct charges.

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Frank Ciccone III

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In 1981, Ciccone punched both a cab driver and passenger in Providence.

Just two years later, Ciccone was charged with possession of a loaded shotgun in a moving vehicle and for breaking a window in a bar.

Although Ciccone was found guilty of lesser charges for both these incidents, they were later expunged.

In 2012, Ciccone intervened when Ruggerio was stopped by police for drunk driving.

Ciccone lost committee chairmanship but is now running for re-election.

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Robert A. Watson

Robert Watson, a Republican member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives and an attorney, was arrested twice for marijuana possession.

On Friday, April 22, 2011, Watson was stopped in East Haven, Connecticut at a police checkpoint. He was charged for both marijuana possession and a DUI.

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Since 1992, Watson has represented the 30th District.

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John Carnevale

John M. Carnevale is a Democrat of the Rhode Island House of Representatives. He has represented District 3 since January 2009.

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Gordon Fox

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Allan Fung

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Jorge Elorza

A relative newcomer to politics, Providence mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza is running on a platform of ethics and transparency, but he’s had his brush with the law as well.

In a campaign letter Elorza admitted to being arrested for shoplifting as an 18-year-old.

He says he has since transformed his life, going from CCRI to a job on Wall Street, then to a profession in law. A former housing court judge, he resigned his position to run for Mayor.


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