Youth team tied to Councilman Jackson received $67K in city funds since 2005

Councilman Kevin Jackson stands next to his lawyer, Artin Coloian.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The youth track-and-field team Providence City Councilman Kevin Jackson founded and is now accused of embezzling from received more than $67,000 in taxpayer-funded donations from the city between 2005 and 2015, Target 12 has learned.

Records obtained through a public information request show the Providence Cobras received 30 separate contributions over the 11-year period, ranging from $200 from the recreation department to $7,000 from a special fund controlled by the City Council.

Jackson, a 57-year-old Democrat first elected in 1994, was arrested outside Providence City Hall two weeks ago for allegedly embezzling more than $127,000 from the Cobras organization as well as misusing $12,000 in campaign contributions. He has said he intends to plead not guilty.

The newly released records show the organization Jackson founded in 1978 received far more from city contributions than previously reported. In 2013, Target 12 reported the Cobras received $23,000 in grants from the council and mayor’s office during a seven-year period.

Because the vast majority of city donations to the Cobras did not require an application or any paperwork whatsoever – only $4,500 in grants from the city’s Dexter Donation fund require applications – it is unclear whether Jackson used his influence as a council member to steer funds to the organization; he has not been accused of doing so.

Although Jackson and others involved in the organization have repeatedly referred to the Cobras as a nonprofit, the organization is not registered as a 501(c)3 with the IRS and does not file a federal Form 990 tax return. While intricate, line-item details about expenditures are not part of the 990, such a document would offer some insight into where donated funds come from and how the money is spent. There is also no record of the Cobras registering as a nonprofit with the Rhode Island secretary of state’s office.

What is clear is that the team received $16,200 in city money between July 2005 and December 2006, the final 17 months of Jackson’s tenure as chairman of the powerful City Council Finance Committee. He did not reemerge as a member of council leadership until 2015, when his colleagues elected him their majority leader. (Jackson resigned the post following his arrest, but is expected to resume his regular activity with the council this week.)

Prosecutors allege Jackson embezzled $127,153 from the Cobras, using organization funds on campaign-related expenses, including an advertisement in a local magazine during his 2014 reelection bid. He is also accused of using the team’s money to pay for apparel, car repairs and monthly Netflix charges. Prosecutors say Jackson did return about $22,000 to the team between 2010 and 2014.

Jackson’s lawyer, Artin Coloian, declined to comment Monday.

The fallout from Jackson’s arrest as well as increased scrutiny on legislative grants at the State House has prompted the City Council to review all donations awarded by both the council and the mayor’s office over the last decade. That review is expected to be completed after the council approves the city budget.

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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

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