Former Councilman Kevin Jackson pleads no contest to embezzlement

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Former Providence City Councilman Kevin Jackson, who co-founded a youth track-and-field program that has received thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded donations over the years, pleaded no contest Friday to embezzling from the organization.  

Jackson, a Democrat who represented Ward 3 on the East Side from 1995 until he was recalled from office last year, also agreed to plead no contest to two felony counts of unlawful appropriation, as well as violating Rhode Island's campaign contribution and expenditure reporting requirements and filing a false document with a public official, both misdemeanors.

Wearing a brown suit as he stood between his attorneys, Artin Coloian and Daniel Calabro, Jackson told Superior Court Judge Brian Stern he was waiving his right to a trial and the right to appeal if he was convicted by a jury. Assistant Rhode Island Attorney General Paul Carnes then explained to Stern the five charges the state has leveled against Jackson.

Carnes said the state was asking Stern to approve a 10-year sentence with a cap of three years to serve for Jackson. Carnes also said a restitution hearing will be scheduled to discuss the amount Jackson will be required to pay back the organization - the Providence Cobras - and the R.I. Board of Elections.

Stern said he will schedule a sentencing date after the restitution hearing.

Jackson, 60, was the majority leader of the council in 2016 when he was charged following a State Police investigation that was prompted by his repeated failure to file quarterly campaign finance reports with the R.I. Board of Elections over the course of many years. He owed the state $33,389 in fines as Friday, according to Ric Thornton, who oversees campaign finances for the board.

Prosecutors claim Jackson embezzled $127,153 from the Providence Cobras youth track-and-field team, an organization he co-founded in 1978 that has trained some of the best runners in New England. He was accused of using the organization’s money to fund campaign-related expenses, including an advertisement in a local magazine during his 2014 reelection bid. He is also accused of spending the Cobras’ money on apparel, car repairs and monthly Netflix charges.

Records show the Cobras – which is not registered as a 501(c)3 with the IRS and does not file a federal Form 990 tax return – received at least $67,000 in donations from the city between 2005 and 2015. Jackson was not accused of using his influence as a councilman to steer money to the team.

During his 22-year tenure on the City Council, Jackson was known as an outspoken advocate for youth and education. Months before he was charged, a group of his colleagues co-sponsored a resolution that would have named the athletic center at the Providence Career and Technical Academy after him. The proposal never moved forward.

Jackson was at time a vocal critic of the Providence Police Department, although he was a supporter of current Chief Col. Hugh Clements. In 2000, after off-duty Sgt. Cornel Young Jr. was shot and killed by two fellow officers, Jackson sponsored a resolution calling the incident a “murder.” In a separate resolution, he called for the resignation of then-Police Chief Urbano Prignano Jr.

Jackson was ousted from office last year when his Ward 3 constituents organized a recall, citing his arrest. Voters then elected Democrat Nirva LaFortune, who is now viewed as an up-and-coming politician who could one day run for mayor. She is running for re-election unopposed this year.

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Dan McGowan ( ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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