PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The city of Providence and its public water utility are denying allegations by a city worker that she tried to raise a red flag about credit card fraud years before an employee was charged.
Charlene Oliver filed the lawsuit earlier this month under the Rhode Island Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, claiming she was ignored when she told supervisors about Rebecco Lourenco and other employees allegedly misusing the utility’s credit card.
Lourenco was charged with fraud by Providence Police last month. She stands accused of using a Providence Water Supply Board credit card on $13,000 worth of personal items.
Oliver, who was a purchasing agent at the Providence Water Supply Board, said she was forced to resign from her job for reporting the credit card fraud. She now works for another city department at a lower salary.
Spokespersons for the city and Providence Water previously declined to comment on the allegations, but both parties are now denying the claims in a new document filed in federal court this week.
In the document, the city denies that Oliver “reported any fraudulent purchases to the PWSB.” Oliver says she did so as early as 2015, when she says she noticed purchases of sunglasses, cell phones and contact lenses on her Providence Water credit card.
Oliver says she was repeatedly ignored by supervisors, including Lourenco herself and Elizabeth Paquin, after reporting multiple instances of credit card fraud.
She claims to have been repeatedly reprimanded for blowing the whistle, and ultimately forced to resign from the utility.
The city acknowledges in the court filing that Oliver was reprimanded and disciplined, but denies that it was because she reported credit card fraud. The document does not elaborate on the city’s version of events.
Reached by phone and told about the new filing, Oliver told WPRI 12, “They can deny it all day long, but it’s the truth.”
“If I didn’t bring things to their attention, do you think Becky Lourenco would’ve been charged?” Oliver said. “If it didn’t happen, why did I have to leave Providence Water? Why did I take a pay cut?”
Lourenco’s attorney has declined to comment on her ongoing criminal case. According to police reports, Lourenco allegedly used the Providence Water credit card to buy makeup, a mannequin head, paper towels, Nerf darts, a leather ottoman and a gazebo canopy.
Paquin, who is still a purchasing supervisor at Providence Water, has not responded to requests for comment. According to police, she initiated an audit after Lourenco self-reported in August 2018 that she made an inadvertent personal charge on the credit card.
The audit turned up dozens of questionable charges, after which police were notified. Police say they then found 101 alleged fraudulent charges in all, plus phony purchase orders they allege Lourenco created to make transactions appear to be legitimate business of the Providence Water Supply Board.
While Lourenco has been charged, Providence police say their criminal investigation into what happened at Providence Water is ongoing.