NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi has suspended a top official after Target 12 discovered public employees were using town equipment to work on the mayor’s private property.
Target 12 was looking into an unrelated issue on Sept. 30 when an investigative camera spotted a North Providence Department of Public Works truck pulling up to 18 Steere Ave., a multifamily home located within 200 feet of Town Hall.
Two public works employees jumped out of the truck, grabbed a lawn mower, weed whacker and leaf blower, and started doing yard work. Then Lombardi showed up with a handful of other people and greeted the workers. The town workers eventually finished up, got back into the truck – emblazoned with the town seal – and drove away.
“Yeah, I can’t [expletive] believe that,” Lombardi said about the truck and equipment when Target 12 showed him video of what happened two weeks later.
Lombardi defended his decision to have the town employees work on the property, which he and his family bought for $275,000 on May 19, saying he paid each of the men $50 for the yard work. He provided town payroll records showing the two men had clocked out for the day before arriving to Steere Avenue, and neither received any overtime that day.
But the North Providence Democrat insisted he didn’t know anything about the use of town equipment, and he subsequently suspended DPW Assistant Director Anthony Ricci for a week without pay, blaming Ricci for allowing the workers to improperly use city resources.
“There is no one out there that is going to tell me who I can hire as long as I pay them and the taxpayers are not paying,” Lombardi said. “As far as the equipment, that’s another story and that’ll never happen again. I can tell you that.”
Lombardi and Ricci grew up together and the mayor hired him to work for the town nearly five years ago. Ricci took full responsibility for allowing the men to use city equipment, saying he’s allowed it in the past under the promise that “if you break it, you have to pay for it.”
“I told them to take the truck,” Ricci told Target 12. “I didn’t think it was a big deal, and it was a big deal. I should have called Charlie and I didn’t.”
Ricci also said he’d be willing to purchase private equipment for the workers using his own money once his suspension was over so that the issue wouldn’t come up again.
“When I get back, I’m going to tell them, ‘What do you need?’” Ricci said. “I’m going to go to Lowe’s and pay for what they need because they are such nice kids.”
It’s not the first time Lombardi has used town employees to do his private work. The mayor said he hired DPW workers a few other times to work on his other properties and usually finds them by asking Ricci if he’s got any guys who want to make some extra money.
Lombardi said he was approached by the property’s owner initially to see if the town would be interested in purchasing the home. After taking a pass as a public entity, Lombardi and his family decided to pursue the deal privately.
“The realtor called me and said, ‘Charlie, what are you doing? Why don’t you buy this house, it’s in nice shape, you could probably make a few dollars with it,'” Lombardi said. “That’s where I went.”
When purchasing the multifamily home in May, Lombardi’s family created a real estate holding company called Stellalulu LLC, and Lombardi used North Providence town solicitor Anthony Gallone for most of the legal work.
Lombardi said the work done by Gallone, who has helped the mayor with his other personal businesses, wasn’t done on the town’s time. And he rejected the idea that he was blurring the lines between his private businesses and the public nature of his job.
“I don’t think it’s the public’s business what I do personally,” Lombardi said. “I don’t care what people think.”
Lombardi, who became mayor in 2007, is up for re-election in 2024.
Eli Sherman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.
Tim White (email@example.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.