Potential multimillion-dollar opportunity lost to retired cops, firefighters, but no one knows why

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — In 1969, the stock market was white-hot and the skyrocketing potential provoked West Warwick police and firefighters to reconsider their retirement investment, which at that time was deposited in a John Hancock Investments annuity.

But the pool of money was seemingly forgotten until about a year ago, when the current West Warwick Pension Board received a check for just over $66,000 from Hancock, with no explanation.

Kevin O’Connell, a retired police officer whose late father paid into the annuity, was at the pension board meeting and soon started asking questions about the surprise check. That led him to documents showing the annuity was worth just under $364,000 in 1969.

“No one knew where that money went,” O’Connell said from the town’s Fraternal Order of Police hall.

A 50-year-old Pension Study Committee report that he found in his father’s belongings stated “John Hancock will not transfer the money” into the pension fund set up in ’69.

There are 20 living retirees and widows who should be beneficiaries of the annuity according to O’Connell, who said modern day John Hancock advisers he communicated with have not detailed where the money went.

A compound interest calculator shows a conservative interest rate of 5%, applied annually to the 1969 total of $364,000 would balloon that amount to more than $4 million over 50 years.

“It boggles the mind doesn’t it?” O’Connell said. “We have a pension system in West Warwick that’s in critical status. So, you would think the town fathers and everybody involved would want to track down and see where this money went.”

O’Connell said town leaders have so far not expressed interest in solving the mystery and have not returned requests for comment from the Target 12 Investigators.

He acknowledges current officers, firefighters and town employees are far removed from the annuity’s financial roots, but he has asked surviving union members who contributed to the old fund if they received a check from John Hancock.

“Everyone said no,” O’Connell said.

Including Alphonse Amaral, now 90-years old.

Amaral was a 10-year police department veteran the year his retirement fund transitioned from the annuity to the current system.

“No,” Amaral said when asked if he ever received a check from the annuity. “I just gave what everyone else did and I never thought about it.”

“It looks like poor management of the money by somebody, and I don’t know who,” retiree Ira Cook added.

Retired officer Jean Tellier contributed to the fund and would later serve on the board that helped transition from the annuity to the current system.

He remembers being told the money from the annuity would be transferred into the new pension system.

But the 50-year old pension study document O’Connell found indicates otherwise.

“That [$66,000] check doesn’t make sense,” Tellier said. “We worked under some difficult conditions way back and we were all working for something we thought was going to be there at the end. I don’t know what happened with this money.”

The survivors at the FOP said they’re discussing a lawsuit, but in the meantime O’Connell is focused on uncovering the truth.

“That’s all I’m looking for. I’m not looking for anyone to go to jail. All I’m looking for is closure for these gentlemen,” O’Connell said.

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