Phony signatures on papers for Puello’s failed 2019 Holyoke election bid 

  • Wilmer Puello-Mota SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/23/2022 6:38:10 PM

HOLYOKE — When Wilmer “Will” Puello-Mota first ran for the City Council in 2019, two of the signatures on his nomination papers drew the suspicion of employees of the city clerk’s office. That’s because those people said they had never signed Puello’s papers.

“It was two people who actually worked in this office,” City Clerk Brenna Murphy McGee said in a phone interview Monday. As she recalled, one of her staffers who was certifying those signatures said, “My name is on these nomination papers and I didn’t sign it.” Soon, Murphy McGee said they found the name and signature of another clerk’s office staffer on the nomination papers, and that staffer said she hadn’t signed them either.

Puello is currently jailed in Rhode Island. Police in that state recently alleged that he forged his military supervisor’s signature on a fake Air Force memo in an attempt to mislead prosecutors who had brought a felony charge of child pornography possession against him for allegedly paying for nude photos of a 17-year-old girl in 2020. Puello has pleaded not guilty to that charge.

Massachusetts State Police arrested Puello earlier this month on charges of obstruction of justice as well as forgery and counterfeiting — violations of his bail conditions in the child pornography case. He was extradited to Rhode Island, his bail was revoked and he awaits a bail violation hearing on June 2.

Puello’s bid for an at-large seat on the City Council was ultimately unsuccessful in 2019. This year, he was sworn in as the Ward 2 councilor after running unopposed for the seat in November.

Murphy McGee said that when her office discovered the two allegedly fraudulent signatures on Puello’s 2019 nomination papers, they contacted him.

“We brought it to his attention, he said he knew nothing about that,” Murphy McGee said. She added that Puello said he had students going door to door to collect signatures on his behalf.

Efforts to reach Puello or his attorney, Robert Munns, were unsuccessful Monday.

After discovering the questionable signatures, Murphy McGee said that she reached out to the acting city solicitor for guidance on how to proceed.

“We did reach out to the state, who told us we could do a hearing and challenge the signatures,” Murphy McGee said. But her office could only prove that the two signatures weren’t real and Puello had collected many more signatures than required to get on the ballot, she said. Given that reality, she said the city solicitor’s office recommended that her office not go through a “huge process for two signatures” when Puello was going to get on the ballot anyway.

Puello ultimately finished 11th out of 12 at-large candidates that election cycle, failing to place in the top six and secure a seat on the council.

Around six months later, police in Warwick, Rhode Island, responded to a hotel room after Puello’s gun was reported stolen. There, police allege that a 17-year-old girl told them that Puello was her “sugar daddy” she had met online, later alleging that Puello paid her for sexually explicit photos after he was aware that she was 17.

Puello allegedly told police that he initially believed the girl was 22 and that he did not have sexual contact with her. In court documents, police allege that a forensic examination of Puello’s phone showed that he had sexually explicit videos of the girl in a trash folder.

Last week, when news broke that Rhode Island prosecutors had brought a charge of forgery and counterfeiting against Puello and arrested him, Murphy McGee said the questions about the phony signatures on his nomination papers jumped to mind. Describing the advice she said the city’s law office gave her to not pursue the matter, she seemed to express doubts about it.

“Unfortunately, I feel like that is maybe not the best practice for that,” she said.


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