State officials poised to permanently revoke ex-chief’s pension

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – As former Coventry Fire District Chief Paul Labbadia prepares to defend himself in a criminal case, he will also have to defend his pension before state officials who are poised to permanently revoke his benefits.

On Wednesday, a judge unsealed a three count indictment by a statewide grand jury accusing Labbadia, 49, of Coventry, of falsely obtaining a pension. He is facing two counts of obtaining money under false pretenses and one count of falsify a document.

Labbadia pleaded not guilty.

Investigators say he obtained $155,000 in retiree health benefits and $23,000 in Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) payments from the city of North Providence, as well as $45,000 in state pension payments.

Investigators say Labbadia inflated the years he worked as a firefighter in North Providence in order to obtain the pension.

In April state retirement officials suspended his pension benefits and asked him to repay what he has received to date.

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner said they will fully revoke his pension if he is convicted of the crime.

“It’s important because if indeed an individual is committing fraud against a pension system then that hurts everybody else in the pension system,” Magaziner said. “We have an underfunded pension system in Rhode Island so every dollar counts, every dollar matters.”

North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi said his administration is looking to recover roughly $180,000 in retiree health benefits and COLA raises the town paid for since Labbadia’s retirement in 2007.

The state has asked for him to return $51,000 in pension payments plus interest (most of Labbadia’s pension payments were on hold while working as chief in Coventry because they are also part of the state retirement system).

“We sent notification to his attorney that we expect the system to be made whole and so far they have not been responsive,” Magaziner said.

The next step, according to Magaziner, would be to hold an administrative hearing in another attempt to recover the money. He said they held off on that move because they knew the state police were working a criminal investigation.

“We’ve been working with the state police on this matter for months because it does get to the question of whether this individual was properly filling out his paperwork and accurately filling out his paperwork in terms of the time he was working that would count toward the pension,” Magaziner said.

He said people can leave an anonymous tip with his office if someone suspects pension abuse. The hotline number is 401-462-TIPS (462-8477).

On Wednesday, Magistrate Judge Patricia Harwood released Labbadia on $25,000 personal recognizance and set a Nov. 16 pretrial conference.

Labbadia’s attorney John DeSimone – who is also the House Majority Leader for the Rhode Island House of Representatives – declined to comment.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, Labbadia was arrested at his Coventry home following the indictment by the Rhode Island State Police. The case was being investigating by their Financial Crimes Unit.

Labbadia was terminated as the chief in the Coventry Fire District after a wide-ranging investigation by the Target 12 Investigators last year. He was seen in undercover video leaving work in a taxpayer-funded department vehicle to go play golf in another town for hours on end; drinking during the day, then driving the fire department vehicle back to work; and even taking the department vehicle to a party on Federal Hill, where he drank and appeared to smoke – and share – marijuana before once again getting behind the wheel.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI

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