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Former rival calls on indicted RI rep. to resign

By David Klepper
Associated Press / October 31, 2011

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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—A former political rival on Monday called for the resignation of a state lawmaker facing sexual assault charges.

Rep. John Carnevale's opponent from last year's campaign said Carnevale, D-Providence, could become a distraction as lawmakers attempt to wrestle with the state's public pension problem. Damien Baldino said Carnevale should instead step down to address the criminal charges against him.

"With this kind of cloud hanging over him, I don't see how he could stay," said Baldino, a Republican who lost to Carnevale in 2010. "Obviously, he's innocent until proven guilty, but the grand jury found there was enough information to pass down an indictment, so I don't think you can overlook that."

A grand jury charged Carnevale on Friday with first- and second-degree sexual assault and one count of assault with the intent to commit sexual assault. The charges stem from a July 28 encounter with a woman in Johnston.

Carnevale denies the charges, according to his attorney, William Dimitri. Carnevale didn't return phone calls seeking comment on Monday. His arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 16 in Providence County Superior Court.

Carnevale is the fourth state lawmaker to face criminal charges this year.

Carnevale's colleagues in the General Assembly who spoke with the Associated Press said they'll wait for Carnevale's case to be resolved before weighing in.

"We are human beings," said Rep. Larry Valencia, D-Richmond. "We face our own personal problems like anyone else. ... In America, you have the presumption of innocence."

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause-Rhode Island, said he worries that the legal troubles facing Carnevale and other lawmakers are hurting the General Assembly's credibility as it enters a special legislative session devoted to addressing rising public pension costs. Carnevale sits on the influential House Finance Committee now reviewing the pension problem.

"It feeds cynicism," Marion said of the charges facing Carnevale and others. "It's a distraction from important work they're undertaking and that's a shame."

Johnston police Chief Richard S. Tamburini said Carnevale's accuser is the ex-wife of a Providence police officer. Carnevale used to socialize with the woman when she was married, he said.

Carnevale called the woman July 28, asked if he could come over and she agreed, Tamburini said. The woman claims once Carnevale came over, he sexually assaulted her while she resisted, Tamburini said.

Carnevale told police the encounter was consensual, Tamburini said. He added that police interviewed Carnevale and the accuser.

Carnevale also has had encounters with the law involving his ex-wife, who accused him of physical abuse. In one application for a restraining order, Jennifer Reed wrote that Carnevale had been arrested three times by North Kingstown police. All Reed's abuse complaints were voluntarily withdrawn, court records show.

Police Chief Thomas Mulligan said Monday that Carnevale's arrest records have been expunged.

Four House members have faced criminal charges this year.

Police arrested Rep. Dan Gordon, R-Portsmouth, last month after learning that he faced charges in Massachusetts of failing to stop for police, driving with a suspended license and other charges stemming from a 2008 traffic stop. Gordon agreed to pay $1,000 to resolve the charge that he fled from police, and he received probation for other traffic related-charges.

The same month, Rep. Leo Medina, D-Providence, was accused of pocketing proceeds from a life insurance policy on a friend's dead daughter. Medina maintains his innocence. His first court appearance is scheduled for this week.

In the spring, Rep. Robert Watson, R-East Greenwich, was charged with drug possession and DUI in Connecticut. Police say Watson had consumed marijuana and cocaine. Watson denied using cocaine and said he had marijuana to treat pancreatitis but hadn't smoked that day.