West Warwick police, firefighters receive answers on missing pension fund

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Former town employees finally received answers Tuesday night regarding a pension fund they invested in more than 50 years ago that mysteriously disappeared.

Former West Warwick police officers and firefighters began to question what happened to the fund, when the town pension board received a $66,000 check from John Hancock about a year ago with no explanation, according to board members.

“We received $66,000, and that’s what opened up the can of worms,” Edward Fonseca, of the pension board, said at the meeting Tuesday.

Documents indicate the John Hancock Annuity account, comprised of contributions from several police officers and firefighters in West Warwick, was worth almost $364,000 when it was closed in 1969. There are about 20 living retirees and widows who could have had a stake in the retirement fund. They began to wonder if the money in the account was ever invested or distributed.

At a meeting on Feb. 12, the pension board said it was thoroughly looking into the situation. 

Then, at a town council meeting Tuesday night, West Warwick Town Solicitor Timothy Williamson shared new information he received from John Hancock.

Williamson says 72 firefighters and police officers had contributed to the John Hancock annuity account more than 50 years ago. When it closed in 1969, and a new pension plan was created in the town, Williamson said John Hancock gave all contributors the option “to remain in the system or to opt out.”

Once John Hancock received release forms from 70 of the 72 employees who contributed to the account, Williamson said the company released around $69,000 to West Warwick in 1975, which was then put into the town’s new pension plan.

“On February 14, 1975, all the monies were returned, including those employees that stayed out or were out of the plan, which was $69,981.70 sent back to the town to be put be put into the new modern pension plan,” Williamson said.

He also said that from 1961 to 2016, John Hancock Life Insurance Policy returned more than 30 dividend payments to the town, each time an annuitant or a contingent annuitant passed away.

“There is no money owed to anyone,” Williamson said.

The town is still waiting for all documentation from John Hancock indicating each of the 72 former employees signed off on the release.

Williamson said the council is now handing over all the new information to the pension board. It will now be up to the remaining former employees, or families of the deceased, to contact the pension board if they would like any additional information.