WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The president of the West Warwick Police Union told the town council that officers want a convicted felon to resign or be removed from his recent appointment to the pension committee, emphasizing his “alarming” crime that involved embezzling donations for a murdered officer’s charity event.
Jerry Leite was sentenced to three years probation in the 2002 case and ordered to pay $1,152 in restitution after pleading no contest to stealing more than $2,100 in sports memorabilia donated to the Steven M. Shaw Memorial Golf Tournament.
Shaw, a Providence police officer, was shot and killed while on duty in 1994.
West Warwick Police Union President Major Ernest Lavigne said “the facts of the case make this conviction even more alarming,” especially considering the appointed position involves a pension fund for police officers.
“It is shocking to the conscience that Mr. Leite, a convicted felon who stole from a fallen police officer’s charity event, was appointed to the pension board,” Lavigne told the council. “His duties will be to oversee the investment of millions of dollars in assets, some of which belong to the dedicated, hardworking police officers of the West Warwick Police Department.”
According to records, West Warwick’s pension system is less than 22% funded with nearly $126 million in unfunded liability, making it one of the state’s most depleted municipal funds.
Leite also addressed the council, with his voice cracking as he said he would not resign.
He did apologize for what he did in 2002.
“I can’t put into words how terrible I do feel about what I did,” Leite said. “Those actions that night were not me. They weren’t specifically against a fallen police officer.”
Leite, who’s also an appointed member of the Board of Assessment and Review, was placed on the pension committee by a 4-1 vote during a Feb. 5 meeting.
Three council members told Target 12 they did not know Leite was a convicted felon when they voted.
Council President David Gosselin and council member Maribeth Williamson did not respond to requests for comment.
The appointment also initially raised questions about possible town charter restrictions.
West Warwick Town Solicitor Timothy Williamson told the council the appointment did not violate the town charter, which states no one who is convicted of a felony is eligible for “appointment in any position with the town.”
According to Williamson, the charter is trumped by the state constitution, which allows a convicted felon to serve in an office “three years after the date of completion” of their sentence.
But a number of individuals who addressed the council cared less about the charter verses constitution question, and more about a felon sitting on a public board.
“Although we certainly understand that some people can change over time,” Lavigne said. “We simply cannot in good conscience stand silent on this matter.”
Leite said he is eager to serve the public and will do so with integrity.
The council will discuss the appointment again next Tuesday, and also plans to examine how the process for appointing individuals to the town’s boards can be improved.