Feds freeze use of Google money by RI State Police

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Department of Justice officials have put a freeze on the R.I. State Police’s ability to spend federal “equitable sharing funds” – like the so-called Google money awarded in a major settlement – while they conduct a review of whether the state agency followed proper protocols and procedures.

Peter Carr, a spokesperson for the DOJ, said in an email that the state police have been “placed on a ‘do not spend’ restriction, which means that they must not spend any equitable sharing funds until further notice from the Justice Department.”

“The department informed RISP that it will be conducting a compliance review of the agency,” Carr said in the email.

He would not say what sparked the money freeze and audit. The Providence Journal first reported the DOJ action.

The announcement comes just weeks after Target 12 first reported the state police had awarded a $225,000 no-bid contract, funded with Google money, to law-enforcement expert Terrance Gainer. A spokeswoman confirmed that Gainer’s bill is the only one pending that’s supposed to be paid with Google money.

The Target 12 report sparked controversy in part because state purchasing regulations require any contract above $5,000 to be put out for public bid, in an effort to attract competitive rates.

According to documents from the Department of Administration, state police officials asked to circumvent the requirement using a “non-competitive bid request” form on Feb. 22, five days after they had already announced Gainer’s hiring. The form was filled out on the same day Target 12 requested the purchasing documents from the state.

State Police spokesperson Laura Meade Kirk would not say Wednesday what sparked the new DOJ action, but said federal officials are looking back to practices beginning in 2013, before Col. Ann Assumpico took over as superintendent last year.

“We’re cooperating fully with this review,” Kirk said in an emailed statement. “The Colonel cannot speak to how disbursements were requested/received under prior administrations. However, she can say that, since she was appointed as Superintendent of State Police, she and her command staff have worked closely with the DOJ’s representatives in requesting all disbursements, to ensure they were in full compliance with all policies and procedures.”

Target 12 obtained the letter the DOJ sent to the state police on April 3 announcing the action after officials there said they received “information pertaining to a potential violation of [the state police’s] contracting protocols.” That inquiry then launched a broader look at the agency’s overall accounting practices of the equitable sharing funds.

“The review indicated that RISP did not report program expenditures as required by the Single Audit Act and impermissibly maintains program funds in multiple accounts,” the DOJ letter states.

The Single Audit Act requires any state agency that receives $750,000 or more of federal money to conduct an annual review of how that money is spent.

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