NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The former superintendent of the North Providence School Department has been formally charged with two felonies related to allegations that she used a school credit card to pay for personal expenses like hotel rooms, airfare and catering.
Bridget Morisseau, 48, was arrested Monday and arraigned on charges of embezzlement and fraudulent conversion and obtaining money under false pretenses.
According to a court affidavit, police identified $4,621 in charges on the school department credit card that were personal expenses.
Card charges included $1,000 at WBG Fine Catering, $2,270 to Waters Edge Resort Spa, and $511 in airfare. The affidavit says “no legitimate school department purpose was provided or discovered.”
Dozens of other charges totaling more than $7,000, from Amazon to grocery stores were deemed questionable, with no documentation to classify them.
The questionable charges started shortly after Morisseau took the helm in the school department in July 2017.
In one case, the affidavit says Morisseau booked a room at a Marriott in Lincoln using a personal Visa card, but when it came time to pay the bill the school department MasterCard was swiped. There was no school department function at the hotel, according to the report.
School department personnel confronted Morisseau about the charges, according to the affidavit, and she acknowledged she needed to reimburse the town for personal charges.
“She never made any effort to reimburse the School Department during her tenure as superintendent,” the document reads. “It was only after this case was heavily covered in the media, that three checks were received by the School Committee Attorney Benjamin Scungio.”
Morisseau resigned in July 2018.
The School Committee did not cash the checks, according to the document. School Committee member Steven Andreozzi says he was one of the members who opposed accepting the checks, which he said were only written for a portion of the total amount owed.
“After we spent money on an auditor, now you want to make restitution?” Andreozzi said. He said he was concerned she was making payment in an effort to be exonerated for the alleged crimes.
The independent auditor submitted the results of his work to the town in September, and the audit was forwarded to the police. It has not been made public, though the town did release 130 pages of documents that list many of the “questionable” charges that were investigated by the auditor.
“It didn’t sit well with me, so I can imagine how it did not sit well with the taxpayers of this town,” said Col. David Tikoian, the North Providence Police Chief. “Certainly the audit that the school committee provided us with is part of the investigation and we did use some of the information in there.”
Tikoian said the investigation is still active and more charges are possible. The North Providence Police investigated along with the Rhode Island State Police and Attorney General’s office.
At her arraignment Tuesday, Morisseau did not enter a plea and was released on her own recognizance. She did not respond to reporters’ questions outside court.
Her attorney, Josh Macktaz, said she denies the charges but denied to comment on the allegations or whether she plans to pay restitution.
Dick Fossa, the chief of staff for Mayor Charles Lombardi, spoke at a news conference in lieu of the mayor, who is out of town.
“He asked me to remind everyone that the school committee that hired Ms. Morisseau is an autonomous body of elected officials and that his administration had nothing to do with her employment at the school department,” Fossa said. “Is it in his opinion that the school committee may have dropped the ball by not doing their due diligence.”
Pressed by reporters, Fossa did not come up with any specific examples of red flags that the committee should have caught.
“I don’t know why he said that,” said School Committee member Anthony Marciano, who was the chair at the time Morisseau was hired. “Her references all checked out.” He pointed out that she had a long tenure at the Smithfield School Department as assistant superintendent and received a positive review.
“She had all her credentials, her schooling, everything was in place,” Andreozzi agreed.
Credit cards are also no longer being used in the school department, Marciano and Andreozzi said.
“We had no knowledge this credit card was even in existence,” said Andreozzi, who said the former finance director had gotten the credit cards to use to buy items on Amazon for the school department.
“She used it, obviously, for other things,” he said.
Former North Providence School Committee member Stephen Palmieri, who voted to hire Morisseau in 2017, said she was the perfect candidate.
“When we hired her, no matter who we spoke with, she came with outstanding recommendations and credentials,” he explained. “So, she was vetted.”
Palmieri said he was disappointed the mayor has insinuated the committee did not thoroughly vet Morisseau.
“I don’t know what more they could have expected from the school committee,” Palmieri said. “But, if they want to blame it, god bless them. I have no qualms about it.”
Fossa said the mayor hopes the taxpayers will be fully reimbursed for the money Morisseau allegedly spent.
“His main concern, and my main concern, is that the taxpayers of our town receive full restitution,” Fossa said.