PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The former chief of the Coventry Fire District pleaded no contest on Thursday to three counts that he filed false documents to obtain a public pension.
Paul Labbadia, 52, of North Providence, changed his plea to nolo contendre – or no contest – on two felony counts of obtaining money under false pretenses and one misdemeanor count of filing a false document. Superior Court Associate Justice Netti Vogel set his sentencing day for March 16.
Labbadia faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for each felony count and one year for the misdemeanor charge. Judge Vogel said she would address the issue of revoking or reducing his pension benefits on sentencing day.
Assistant Attorney General Paul Carnes told the judge that had the case proceeded to trial, the state would have been able to prove Labbadia intended “to cheat or defraud the town of North Providence” by obtaining retiree medical benefits, and intended “to cheat or defraud the state of Rhode Island” by receiving pension benefits when he filed a false document with the town when applying for his pension in 2007.
Asked by Judge Vogel if he agreed that had the case gone to trial, the state would be able to prove the allegations, Labbadia paused before saying, “yes, your honor.”
“Are you hesitating?” Vogel asked.
“No, your honor,” he replied.
Labbadia was terminated as the chief in Coventry following a wide-ranging investigation by the Target 12 Investigators in 2014. He was seen in undercover video leaving work in a taxpayer-funded department vehicle to go play golf in another town for hours on end; drinking during the day, then driving the fire department vehicle back to work; and even taking the department vehicle to a party on Federal Hill, where he drank and appeared to smoke – and share – marijuana before once again getting behind the wheel.
At the time, Labbadia claimed the video showed him sharing a cigar with a large group of friends.
In 2015, a grand jury indicted Labbadia after prosecutors said he provided false information on his application for retirement benefits. Investigators say he obtained $155,000 in retiree health benefits and $23,000 in cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) payments from the city of North Providence, as well as $45,000 in state pension payments.
Leaving the courthouse, Labbadia said he was “just a political pawn in a chess game.” Asked what that meant, he repeated the answer.
In 2015, the state retirement board stopped paying Labbadia his pension. The executive director of the retirement system said at the time that a review had found Labbadia did not put in the required years of service as a North Providence firefighter, “rendering him ineligible for a service retirement.”Tim White(firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook