Woman at center of Matos signature scandal criminally charged

Woman at center of Matos signature scandal criminally charged

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A grand jury has indicted the woman at the center of the signature scandal that derailed Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’s congressional campaign last year, Target 12 has learned.

ORIGINAL NOTE: https://www.wpri.com/target-12/woman-at-center-of-matos-signature-scandal-criminally-charged/

Holly McLaren, who was hired to do field work for the Matos campaign, has been charged with two felony counts of violating nomination papers and two misdemeanor counts of giving false documents to an agent, employee or public official. She pleaded not guilty to the charges Friday at her arraignment in R.I. Superior Court and was released on personal recognizance.

Her attorney, John Grasso, declined to comment.

The Matos campaign hired McLaren and her firm last spring to collect signatures on behalf of the campaign in order to get the lieutenant governor’s name on the ballot. It was then revealed several signatures were flagged as potentially fraudulent.

Target 12 also tracked down several people in Newport, Barrington, East Providence and Cranston who said their names were forged on the paperwork.

The scandal spurred R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha to open a criminal investigation. And the public scrutiny did severe political damage to Matos, who was widely considered a frontrunner for the open congressional seat when the controversy broke. She ultimately finished fourth in the Democratic primary election, losing to Gabe Amo.

McLaren is the second person criminally charged in connection to the signature scandal. Last month, Christopher Cotham pleaded not guilty to the same criminal offenses. He told investigators McLaren offered him $2 per signature through her newly established firm, Harmony Solutions.

According to Neronha’s office, McLaren is accused of knowingly falsifying nomination papers last year between July 11 and July 13 and then caused those papers to be submitted to the Jamestown and Newport boards of canvassers on behalf of Matos.

When interviewed as part of the Cotham investigation, Matos told police she met McLaren when the latter worked for Gov. Dan McKee’s 2022 campaign and that they were “friendly and had been to several campaigning events together, but they did not have a personal relationship.”

Matos said Friday she was glad to learn the investigation is moving forward and that “those involved are being held accountable.”

“This is a serious crime that was perpetrated against our state’s free and fair elections, and I look forward to this case being settled and resolved,” Matos said in a statement. “I will continue to support our justice system in any way I can to ensure the truth comes to light, as well as supporting reforms to the reporting structure to protect our democratic process.”

McLaren appeared in a pro-McKee television ad during that campaign.

Police have not yet released a narrative of the investigation into McLaren. But according to Cotham’s charging documents, McLaren told police she didn’t check IDs when collecting signatures.

“I asked McLaren if she was trying to claim that she visited Jamestown one day and collected 17 signatures and all 17 people provided her with a false name and address,” police wrote. “McLaren then stated ‘it’s possible.’”

McLaren is scheduled for a pre-trial conference hearing on Aug. 8, according to Neronha’s office.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Alexandra Leslie and Ted Nesi contributed to this report.