John Hancock responds to questions about West Warwick’s 50-year-old annuity

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The investment company for a mysterious 50-year-old retirement fund in West Warwick has reached out to the town to discuss the issue, which has angered several retired police officers, firefighters and widows who believe they have a stake in the fund.

The dispute started when retired police officer Kevin O’Connell – who said his late father paid into the John Hancock Investments annuity back in the 1960s – started asking questions about a check for just under $67,000 dollars that was mentioned at a pension board meeting about a year ago.

The annuity was set up in 1957, with contributions made by police officers, firefighters and the town until 1969, when it was replaced by the town’s current pension system. Documents show the John Hancock account totaled just under $364,000 at the time it was closed 50 years ago.

John Hancock Investments did not respond to calls and emails from Target 12 for several days, until spokesperson Leslie Uyeda sent an email Tuesday, stating the $66,621 dollar check brought the annuity account to zero.

“Our records indicate that the Town of West Warwick unilaterally decided to convert the contract to discontinued status in 1973,” Uyeda said. “From that point, no new retirees were added to the contract and all assets, other than those needed to support benefits for current retirees, were released.”

Uyeda said the check was sent to the town in 2016 after “the last participant who was due benefits under the contract passed away, which triggered the termination of the contract.”

O’Connell said that statement was a surprise and “hard to believe.” He said several officers and firefighters who are still alive insist they paid into the annuity, but have not received any benefits.

That point was made to Uyeda in an email, but she reiterated her initial response.

“In 2016 the last participant who was due benefits under the contract passed away, which triggered the termination of the contract,” Uyeda said. “The balance for the referenced contract is zero.”

Uyeda said the client is West Warwick, not the retirees, and so far O’Connell said he has not been able to get any information from the company about the annuity.

O’Connell appeared before the pension board on Monday, giving the board 60 days to figure out what happened before the group of retirees files a lawsuit.

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