PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence City Council Majority Leader Kevin Jackson was arrested by state police Wednesday for allegedly embezzling more than $127,000 from a taxpayer-subsidized nonprofit he founded as well as misusing $12,000 in campaign contributions.
Jackson, a 57-year-old Democrat, was arraigned in Sixth District Court Wednesday afternoon. He was released on his own recognizance and is scheduled to be back in court July 15. Jackson is represented by Artin Coloian, a prominent defense attorney.
Jackson was charged with two felonies: embezzlement and unlawful appropriation over $1,000. He also faces two misdemeanor charges: violating Rhode Island’s campaign contribution and expenditure reporting requirements, and filing a false document with a public official.
Prosecutors allege Jackson embezzled $127,153 from the Providence Cobras youth track-and-field team, an organization that has received more than $23,000 in city grants since 2006. Investigators claim Jackson used the organization’s money to fund campaign-related expenses, including an advertisement in a local magazine during his 2014 reelection bid. It also says he spent the Cobras’ money on apparel, car repairs and monthly Netflix charges. Jackson co-founded the team in 1978.
Jackson is also accused of using $12,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, including apparel, health care, cash withdrawals and paying a fine to the Rhode Island Board of Elections. Jackson has a long history of failing to file campaign reports.
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Rhode Island State Police Maj. Joseph Philbin said Jackson was arrested Wednesday morning without incident down the street from City Hall, where detectives were waiting for him by his car.
Philbin said Jackson’s alleged crimes took place “on and off over several years” and that the state police financial-crimes unit has been working on the case since December 2015. The attorney general’s office has previously acknowledged an ongoing investigation into Jackson’s campaign money.
Wednesday evening, a spokesperson for Rhode Island College told Eyewitness News that Jackson has been suspended without pay from his position as a part-time track coach, pending the outcome of the investigation.
Councilman Seth Yurdin (D-Ward 1) became the first on the City Council to call for Jackson’s resignation Wednesday night.
“His continued presence on the council is a distraction from the serious challenges that Providence faces,” Yurdin said in an emailed statement. “Residents of Providence and all of Rhode Island deserve better.”
In separate statements, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Council President Luis Aponte both said they want to learn more about the accusations. Neither called for Jackson’s resignation.
“Details are still emerging, but ensuring integrity and accountability is essential for moving Providence forward,” Elorza said. “As elected officials, we should be held to a higher standard and any violation of that trust is unacceptable.”
“I am surprised and saddened to learn of Councilman Jackson’s arrest. Kevin has been a colleague and friend for many years,” Aponte said. “At this time, I am awaiting further details of the investigation to unfold, and I will reserve judgement while the process continues. I wish Kevin and his family all the best during this difficult time.”
Jackson has represented Ward 3 on Providence’s East Side since 1995 and is now the longest-serving member of the city’s legislative body. He won a narrow re-election victory in 2014, defeating write-in candidate Marcus Mitchell by just 55 votes.
Jackson rose to majority leader in 2015 following several unsuccessful attempts to oust Councilman Seth Yurdin from the job in previous years. He and Aponte, his longtime ally on the council, built the leadership team that is in place today. Jackson also sits on the powerful Finance Committee.
But Jackson is no stranger to controversy.
In February, a Target 12 investigation revealed Jackson repeatedly failed to disclose thousands of dollars in campaign donations and expenditures over several years. He later filed 12 past-due reports with the R.I. Board of Elections dating back to 2013. He owes the state $30,237 in late filing penalties, according to Richard Thornton, the board’s director of campaign finance.
In 2013, a Target 12 investigation showed the Providence Cobras, a youth organization founded by Jackson, had received $23,000 in city grants over seven years. Records showed the team was given more money than all of the youth sports programs in the city combined during that period.
Court documents say Jackson ran the Cobras with Thomas Spann, who was interviewed in March as part of the investigation. Spann told police he mainly coached the athletes, while Jackson handled the finances. Police confirmed with the bank that only Jackson had a debit card for the account.
Multiple attempts to reach Spann for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowanTim White, Ted Nesi and Steph Machado contributed to this report.