West Warwick appoints convicted felon to pension board

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WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Some West Warwick Town Council members are questioning a recent appointment to the pension committee after finding out the applicant has a felony record, resulting in a possible conflict with the town charter.

Records show West Warwick’s pension system is less than 22% funnded with nearly $126 million in unfunded liability, ranking it as one of the state’s most depleted pension funds. 

Jerry 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 the council’s Feb. 5 meeting.

The West Warwick charter states no one who is convicted or pleads guilty or no contest to a felony “shall be eligible for employment or appointment in any position with the town.”

Leite defended his appointment, saying he “will always serve with the highest level of integrity. “

He also cited the Rhode Island Constitution, which states a convicted felon can attain an office “three years after the date of completion” of their sentence.

Town Manager Ernest Zymslinski said the the Town Solicitor will be responding to the state constitution and town charter question at next week’s countil meeting.

“I do not want to speak for him,”  Zymslinski said. 

Leite was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay $1,152 in restitution after pleading no contest to a 2001 felony embezzlement charge out of East Providence.

Court records show he admitted to taking more than $2,100 in sports items that had been donated for the 8th Annual Steven M. Shaw Memorial Golf Tournament. Shaw was a Providence police officer who was shot and killed while on duty in 1994.

The items were returned, and Leite paid the restitution, but he did not pay $450 in ordered court costs until last Thursday, the day after Target 12 talked with him about the case.

Leite also filed a motion to expunge the felony last Thursday, with a hearing scheduled for next month.

Even though he filed a motion to expunge a felony, Leite said paperwork shows his plea was for a misdemeanor.

The document Leite referred to could not be found in his court file, and State Court Assistant Administrator Craig Berke said the Leite conviction “does not appear to be anything other than a felony.”

Court records also indicate Leite was ordered to pay $17,650 in restitution and a $250 fine in a 2010 case, following a no contest plea for violating an order from the state building inspection board tied to a complaint from a customer from his defunct contracting business. 

According to the Contractor’s Registration and Licensing Board, Leite had a contractor’s license from 2006 to 2010.

Council member Jason Licciardi was the lone dissenting vote last week but acknowledged he did not know about Leite’s record when he voted.

“I have recently become aware that Mr. Leite has a record,” Licciardi said. “I do feel that this is a concern. I’ve had some constituents reach out to me with concerns as well.”

Council member Jason Messier said he too was unaware Leite had a record.

“I can’t tell you what will happen with his appointment yet, as it will have to be an issue brought forth with the whole council,” Messier said. “My opinion is we look at every appointment on every board and re-examine them all.”

Council Vice President John D’Amico said Leite has had a reputation over the last three years for helping others and is “quick to take part in the overall betterment of the town.”

He said he was also unaware Leite had a record when he voted in favor of his appointment.

“At this time I am gathering information via the Solicitor in order to weigh and sort out the status of said appointment and so at this time I have no further comment,” D’Amico said.

Council President David Gosselin and council member Maribeth Williamson did not respond to requests for comment from Target 12.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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