Warwick loses fight to cover cost of items allegedly bought illegally

David LaPlante entered a no contest plea on Tuesday.

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The Warwick School Committee lost its bid to attach a lien on the home of a former employee, who now may be able to finalize the sale of his property that police allege includes thousands of dollars in improvements paid for with taxpayer money.

The school committee’s attorney Michael Polak, who filed the motion for a Prejudgment Writ of Attachment, said he disagreed with the ruling by Kent County Associate Justice Allen P. Rubine, but he said he respects the court’s decision.

Polak filed a motion about three weeks after David LaPlante’s house went under contract, asking the court to order “security” for the Warwick school district’s claims to $72,662 in taxpayer funds allegedly used by LaPlante to buy “items and supplies” that police said were used to improve the home.

LaPlante, 48, faces five counts of unlawful conversion for allegedly buying merchandise with school department funds. A search warrant affidavit indicates about 300 items were seized from the home, but police said they did not confiscate things that were attached to the structure, including a deck, kitchen cabinets, counter tops, a dishwasher, hardwood floors and a fence. The listing for the property includes a number of pictures of those features that LaPlante allegedly paid for with the taxpayers’ dime.

LaPlante was terminated in December from his $100,000-a-year job as the district’s Director of Buildings and Grounds. According to Rhode Island Multiple Listing Service, a purchase and sales contract to buy LaPlante’s home was signed February 9. The closing was initially scheduled for about a week ago, but was held off due to the motion.

Judge Rubine said it was premature to tie up the defendant’s assets from the sale.

“It’ s a very high standard to meet to obtain a Prejudgment Writ of Attachment,” Judge Rubine said during the brief hearing. “It’s a matter of constitutional due process. We normally don’t put the cart before the horse.”

LaPlante’s attorney Mark Fay asked the court to clear the sale of the home on the record, but Judge Rubine said that was not an element of the hearing. Fay said the title attorney for the sale of LaPlante’s Fairway Lane home has requested a letter from the City of Warwick, stating the city will not attach a lien on LaPlante’s home.

“That is what stopped the sale last week,” Fay told the court.

Polak said he did know how much if any equity LaPlante has in the real estate, but Fay told the court the amount of equity is “minimal.”

Warwick Superintendent of Schools Phillip Thornton said he expected a different outcome.

“The court ruling today is disappointing,” Thornton said. “We will continue to do what is in the best interest of taxpayers in Warwick.”

Chainsaws, a computer, and a generator were some of the other items taken from LaPlante’s home in December, according to the search warrant  affidavit. The document alleges LaPlante authorized the purchases between July 2014 and November 2015.

LaPlante has not responded to several requests from Target 12 for comment.

The affidavit states the alleged crime was first noticed by school district construction manager Robert Corrente, who discovered the improprieties while reviewing invoices. LaPlante was later asked about a dishwasher and oil tanks in a meeting with the superintendent.

“LaPlante was very solemn and apologized several times before telling him these items were not in or on the school district,” the affidavit states. According to the document, LaPlante then told the superintendent, “I am all done.”

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau

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