Christopher B. Maselli says he wants a second chance.
The Rhode Island judiciary granted his wish. Now, he’s asking Johnston’s voters to do the same.
The real estate attorney and former state senator pleaded guilty as charged to a $1.7 million mortgage fraud scheme in 2010.
He served his time. Came home. Convinced the courts to reinstate his law license.
And now he’s running for Rhode Island State Senate again, in District 25, his old seat, representing Johnston.
“To be clear, I was never accused of anything related to my political position,” Maselli said. “I made a mistake regarding my personal finances and paid the price for it. Since then, I've been given a second chance and had my law license reinstated by the Rhode Island Supreme Court and the Federal District Court.”
Maselli’s running against incumbent State Sen. Frank Lombardo III, the Democrat currently representing District 25 (Johnston), in the Democratic Primary. The winner will likely face Republican Sandra Beth Taylor in November’s General Election.
“The last thing I wanted to do was make this a negative race for senate or embarrass Chris Maselli, but he betrayed the trust of every single Johnson resident,” Lombardo said Tuesday. “My opponent is downplaying his felony convictions as the mistake of an impressionable young man. The mistakes of youth are a bar fight or a DUI. Not a sitting Senator, not a married man with children and a home already. This was a calculated scheme by a prominent real estate attorney to try to build a fortune in investment property.”
Maselli, 50, has been going door-to-door talking to Johnston voters.
“When I talk to voters, they don't ask about my past — they ask why Rhode Island hasn't suspended the gas tax, why we haven't done anything about the skyrocketing cost of living, and they ask me who the incumbent State Senator is,” Maselli said this week. “Even after 12 years in office, people haven't heard from my opponent. Rain or shine, I`m meeting people everyday and listening to their concerns.”
On Nov. 1, 2010, the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney’s Office, announced Maselli — a North Providence real estate attorney and state senator from Johnston — had filed notice with the U.S. District Court in Providence that he intended to plead guilty to eight counts of bank fraud.
Prosecutors alleged Maselli “falsified bank and federal tax documents and lied about his income and assets in obtaining more than 1.7 million dollars in mortgages,” according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation press release. “There is no plea agreement between Mr. Maselli and the government.”
Current Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha was the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney at the time.
Maselli was investigated by the FBI, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations Unit. He was first indicted with seven counts of bank fraud in June, 2010. In November of that year, the government added an additional count.
“In the latest charge, it is alleged that Maselli used a family member as a straw borrower and fabricated documents to support the loan application,” according to the FBI press release.
“According to the (indictment), between June 2007 and March 2009, Maselli, a self-employed attorney, allegedly inflated his annual income dating back to 2005; lied about personal assets; and submitted phony and altered bank statements and IRS tax returns when applying for mortgages, a home improvement loan, and an auto loan,” according to prosecutors. “In all, Maselli obtained six mortgages on residential properties in Johnston and North Providence, and an auto loan, totaling approximately $1,725,027.50.”
Maselli resigned, pleaded guilty, went to jail and lost his law license.
“I voluntarily surrendered my license,” Maselli explained. “After I completed my sentence I applied for reinstatement to the RI Supreme Court. They conducted a thorough investigation of me in 2016 and after their investigation I was reinstated.”
Maselli was disbarred effective Dec. 16, 2010. In 2016, he asked the court to give him another chance.
“Disbarment results in a loss of the privilege to practice law for at least five years, after which a disbarred attorney may apply for reinstatement,” according to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island ruling.
A disbarred attorney can petition for reinstatement, but must demonstrate in court that they have “the moral qualifications, competency and learning in law required for admission to practice law in this State and that his or her resumption of the practice of law within the State will be neither detrimental to the integrity and standing of the Bar or the administration of justice nor subversive of the public interest.”
Maselli filed his petition for reinstatement on Feb. 24, 2016. The court’s Disciplinary Counsel conducted an investigation and ultimately did not object to granting the petition.
Maselli started practicing law in Rhode Island on Nov. 5, 1999, and “was continually engaged in the practice of law for eleven years, and had not been the subject of any disciplinary charges relating to his practice of law,” according the court’s ruling.
On Dec. 16, 2010, “after the entry of his guilty plea but prior to the imposition of his sentence the petitioner voluntarily consented to the suspension of his license to practice law,” according to the Supreme Court’s decision.
Maselli was sentenced to a 27- month term of imprisonment, followed by a three-year term of supervised release.
“Notably, there was no order of restitution as none of the lenders had suffered a loss at the time of sentencing,” wrote the court. “The petitioner has served his full sentence.”
Maselli recently issued a press release announcing his bid to regain the District 25 seat.
“Between inflation, the price of gas, and empty store shelves, hardworking Rhode Islanders are feeling pain everywhere they go,” Maselli said in the press release. “State government needs to be part of the solution by suspending the gas tax, lowering taxes across the board, and making it easier for our small businesses to grow and hire people in Rhode Island. Instead, our government is part of the problem. The career politicians with cushy government jobs make insider deals that reward their friends and stick taxpayers with the bill.”
Following the quote, Maselli acknowledged that, “when he was previously in elected office, he made mistakes and would have to earn back the trust of Johnston voters.”
“The people who know me best know that I’ve changed and I look forward to earning support through honest discussions with my constituents,” Masselli said in the press release, which also gave a short list of community roles he has played since returning home from incarceration. “In addition to his law practice, Maselli is an active supporter of several youth sports leagues in Johnston and volunteers at Our Lady of Grace parish. He is also a member of the Maria SS Della Difesa Society and a member of Johnston Hose 3.”
“Not for anything, but we would be the laughing stock of the state if we elected a convicted felon,” said Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena, who also once held the District 25 Rhode Island state Senate seat.
“He preyed on the elderly,” Polisena said. “I don’t think the people of Johnston will accept the fact they want to put a convicted felon in office. I think it’s ridiculous. We don’t need the good old boys from the bad old days back in politics. He betrayed the people. He embarrassed the town. He embarrassed the seat itself. For him to run now is a joke. Lombardo has done a great job for us.”
Lombardo has held the seat for the past dozen years.
“By borrowing eight loans totaling over $1.7 million and forging elderly relatives' signatures, and sending banks fake tax returns which lied about his income,” Lombardo said about Maselli on Tuesday. “He is not telling people he was convicted and did over two years in jail. If the residents hear the truth, I will accept their decision. But he is going door to door pretending his past never happened. And that is just wrong. Johnston has moved forward in the past 20 years and people can now be proud to live here. Why would we want anything different?”
As a newly announced candidate, Maselli recently mailed a letter to Johnston residents.
“As I start my campaign, my family and I know you may have questions about some of the choices I regretfully made as a younger man regarding my personal financial life,” Maselli wrote to voters. “I have always assumed complete responsibility for my actions, and I am truly sorry to the residents of Johnston for allowing my previous personal failures to affect my ability to represent our district.”
Maselli says he learned from his experiences with the criminal justice system. In 2019, he published a book called “The New Debtors' Prison: Why All Americans Are in Danger of Losing Their Freedom.”
“Since I last held public office, my experiences have given me a greater insight into who I am and what second chances are all about,” Maselli wrote to Johnston voters. “I’ve remarried, become a published author, and am a practicing attorney. I live with my wife and children on Brown Avenue, proudly support various sports leagues in town and attend Our Lady of Grace Parish, where I also volunteer. Five years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and I feel grateful for this second chance, as well — I have been cancer free for the last four years.”
Polisena, in his final year as mayor, hopes voters consider their District 25 choice carefully.
“The guy, he betrayed the trust of the voters when he was senator,” Polisena said. “We all make mistakes, but we don’t make mistakes like that. He can spin it any way he wants to. He’s a convicted felon. We don’t need a convicted felon to represent us at the State House. It’s not that he did it before he was in office; or after. He did it while he was in office. In my opinion; we would be the laughing stock of the state to elect a convicted felon.”
In 2019, during an interview discussing his new book, Maselli told the Johnston Sun Rise that he had the first spark for his book while behind bars.
“I’m a true believer in thinking that we need to find different ways to punish people,” Maselli said. “I start to look at, I was in prison for 27 months. They warehoused me, they fed me three times a day, they were responsible for my medical. There were 400 guys there. There probably was a better way. It really didn’t make a difference whether you gave a person like me six months or 27 months. I got the message after a few weeks.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here