Providence City Council President Luis Aponte pleaded not guilty after being arraigned Wednesday on four charges related to his campaign finances.
The charges include two felonies, embezzlement and unlawful use of campaign finances, and two misdemeanor counts of misusing campaign money.
The two felonies each have a maximum 20-year sentence.
News of Aponte's indictment emerged ahead of his court appearance. It came after the state Board of Elections referred a report on Aponte's campaign finances to Attorney General Peter Kilmartin's office last year. The report said in part that Aponte made personal use of campaign contributions and it pointed to a $13,000 discrepancy.
In a statement, Mayor Jorge Elorza called on Aponte to resign as council president:
"It's deeply disappointing to once again learn of charges against a city council member here in our city. Providence has worked so hard to overcome this stereotype and today's indictment of Council President Luis Aponte proves that we still have a long way to go to ensure ethics and transparency for our residents. The charges brought against the Council President are serious and I call on him to step down from his leadership position immediately. Our residents deserve to be represented by council members who lead with the utmost moral authority and these charges undermine the Council President's ability to do so."
Aponte became council president in January 2015. He has served on the council, from Providence's Washington Park section, since first winning election in 1998.
Aponte left court without speaking to reporters. A pre-trial conference in the case is scheduled for June 19.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza called for the President to step down from his leadership position following the indictment.
"Our residents deserve to be represented by council members who lead with the utmost moral authority and these charges undermine the Council President's ability to do so," Elorza said in a written statement.
Two of Aponte's fellow city councilors offered less-pointed statements, focusing on the work of the Council, which still needs to work out a city budget. Council President Pro Tempore Sabina Matos referred to Aponte as both colleague and friend.
"I wish to assure the people of Providence that their Councilors remain committed to continuing their hard work to ensure that Providence is a vibrant, successful city for all its residents," said Matos.
Majority Leader Bryan Principe issued a short statement which did not reference Aponte by name.
"...the judicial process that began today is out of our hands, and we can’t control its outcome," said Principe. "Instead, we will remain focused on fulfilling our commitment to the people of Providence."
Aponte, a Democrat, is not the only member of the Providence council to run into recent legal issues. Ward 3 Councilor Kevin Jackson was recalled last week. That followed his indictment last year on pending charges of misusing campaign contributions and embezzling $127,000 from a youth sports organization.
Jackson served as majority leader, the number two post on the council, after winning election as part of Aponte's leadership team. Jackson stepped down as majority leader after charges were brought against him last year.
Aponte was born in Puerto Rico. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and Central Falls.
He lost his first council run, for Ward 10, by six votes in 1994. He became Providence's first Latino city councilor when he won election in 1998.
In a 2000 interview with The Providence Phoenix, Aponte said he was motivated to get into politics because of the crumbling roads and other disparities he saw around Washington Park: "I didn't think there was an equitable distribution of resources city-wide, and I thought I could do something about that."
Later, Aponte became known for accumulating almost $50,000 in fines from the state Board of Elections for not filing required campaign finance reports.
Editor's note: a previous version of this article misspelled Bryan Principe's first name, it has been corrected.