WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A former Warwick School Department employee pleaded no contest Tuesday in a case involving the use of taxpayer funds to buy tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise that was later discovered at his home.
After entering the plea on one count of unlawful conversion by officer of state or municipal employee, David LaPlante paid $46,399 in restitution and received a five-year suspended sentence and five years probation.
Amy Kempe, spokesperson for the R.I. Attorney General’s office, said one other count was dropped.
“In consideration of the plea and paying full restitution at the time of the plea, the State dismissed the count of obtaining money under false pretenses,” she said.
Under Rhode Island law, no contest is effectively a guilty plea.
“The defendant who pleads nolo contendere submits for a judgment fixing a fine or sentence the same as if he or she had pleaded guilty,” explained Kempe.
The case surfaced in Dec. 2015, when LaPlante was terminated by the school committee from his $100,000-a-year job as the district’s Director of Buildings and Grounds, a job he had held since 2010.
He was then charged with obtaining money under false pretenses and unlawful conversion for allegedly buying more than $75,000 worth of items.
Chainsaws, a computer and a generator were among the estimated 300 things seized from LaPlante’s Warwick home, according to the search warrant affidavit.
At the time, police said a lot of the merchandise was “not seized due to being installed and deemed part of” LaPlante’s home.
“These items included a deck, kitchen cabinets, countertops, a dishwasher, prefinished hardwood floors, LED spot lights, TV mounting systems and numerous other items,” the affidavit stated.
LaPlante put the home up for sale in Jan. 2016, according to Rhode Island Multiple Listing Service. The home was under contract, but the deal fell through in March of that year.
The Warwick School Committee had filed a motion to put a lien on the home about two weeks after the buyer signed a purchase and sales agreement, but the motion was denied.
Neither LaPlante nor his attorney William Murphy have responded to requests for comment.