Eyewitness News Investigates

West Warwick police, firefighters take $364,000 question to pension board

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) -- A number of former police officers and firefighters, concerned about a retirement fund that was closed 50 years ago but possibly never invested or distributed, brought their questions to the town's Pension Board meeting Monday night.

Documents indicate the John Hancock Annuity account, comprised of contributions from several police officers and firefighters and the town, was worth almost $364,000 in 1969, when it was closed.

But it dwindled to a check for just over $66,000, mailed to the pension board about a year ago with no explanation, according to board members. That provoked retired police officer Kevin O'Connell, whose father is one of the officers who contributed to the annuity, to start asking questions.

"It didn't make any sense," O'Connell said. "What happened to the money?"

Town Solicitor Timothy Williamson said West Warwick "is attempting to obtain information from John Hancock" to provide evidence about the annuity and possible disbursements.

"At this time, the town has no evidence to believe that the terms and conditions of the original or modified contract(s) have not been complied with; nor have been altered in any manner," Williamson said.

He has not responded to a question about whether or not the $66,000 check came without any additional correspondence or explanation.

Target 12 has called, emailed and contacted John Hancock Investments through Facebook, without a response.

Members of the Pension Board agreed at Monday night's meeting that the retirees deserve their money and they will work to find out what happened.

"What is it gong to take for this pension board and the Town of West Warwick?" O'Connell asked at Monday night's meeting. "The time is ticking. They deserve some answers."

O'Connell said he is giving the board 60 days before he hires a lawyer.

Retired police officer Jean Tellier contributed to the annuity and wonders what the 1969 total might've grown to with even 4 to 5 percent compound interest over five decades.

A compound interest calculator indicates $364,000 with 5 percent interest compounded annually over 50 years would've grown to be just over $4 million.

"The thing is back then we took people at their word," Tellier said. "I just assumed all of these years that money was going where it was supposed to go."

Tellier remembers hearing the money would be added to the new pension system. But the pension report states, "John Hancock will not transfer the money" to the new pension fund.

O'Connell said there are about 20 living retirees and widows who potentially have a stake in the old account.

"They put $72,000 of their own money into that John Hancock policy [that with the town's contribution and interest totaled $364,000 in 1969], and never derived a benefit from it," O'Connell said. "And that's concerning."

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

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