PAWTUCKET — Recently retired Pawtucket Police Officer Kenneth Provost, accused of stealing gasoline from the city for his own use, pleaded no contest to the charges in 6th District Court on Friday.
Provost, 56, of 303 Woodward Ave., Seekonk, was charged with misdemeanor larceny in August for allegedly stealing more than 200 gallons of gasoline from the city’s Department of Public Works garage. He had previously pleaded not guilty to the charge at his arraignment.
On Friday, Provost entered a no-contest plea, telling news reporters his actions were “a mistake.” He was given one year’s probation and ordered to pay $682 in restitution to the city for the gasoline.
Provost was first targeted by an investigation by NBC 10’s I-Team after someone reportedly noted suspicious behavior at the city gas pumps. Pawtucket Police first looked into the matter and then called in the R.I. State Police to take over. Following an investigation by the State Police Financial Crimes Unit, Provost was arrested on Aug. 7 for larceny under $1,500.
According to the State Police, investigators reviewed surveillance video at the DPW garage, which goes back about 90 days, reviewed transaction logs and interviewed city employees. Provost reportedly used his city-issued “swipe card” to obtain the gasoline, sometimes filling up on multiple occasions during one shift.
Last month, Provost retired. With over 30 years on the Pawtucket Police Department, city officials say he now receives an annual pension benefit of $39,529, plus lifetime health and dental insurance benefits totaling $18,403. He also received a payout of $46,680 from the city for unused sick time, vacation time, clothing/cleaning allowance, and other compensation.
Tony Pires, director of administration for Mayor Donald Grebien, said that while the criminal case appears to be closed, the city is looking at its options for seeking restitution through a civil action against Provost.
Pires said the State Police had based their charge on information gleaned from 90 days’ worth of surveillance video, which is as far back as the DPW’s cameras store footage. He said, however, “We’re looking at paper records prior to that to make a determination on whether we have further evidence to take civil action.”
Pires added that if any such evidence is found and the administration believes it should go forward with civil proceedings and/or changes to Provost’s pension, the City Council would be asked to make the final determination.
During the course of the investigation into Provost’s gasoline theft, the City Council has been looking into his decade-long relationship with the city in helping procure police vehicles in his role as a licensed car dealer in Massachusetts. The City Council recently raised questions about this practice since the vehicles, purchased through Leer’s Auto Body, Inc., were obtained outside of the normal bid process.
However, both Pires and Grebien have said that because the vehicles were unmarked ones intended for use by undercover police officers, the purchases could be made outside of the usual guidelines. They both said this practice had been established by the prior administration, ostensibly to lend confidentiality to vehicles that were going to be driven by undercover police officers.
In response to the latest request by the City Council for more information, Purchasing Agent David Clemente said that in the fall of 2002, then-Purchasing Agent Joe Roque had been asked to find a way to keep undercover police vehicle buys confidential while staying with the framework of the City Charter for purchasing.
He said a policy was eventually agreed to by Purchasing, the Police Department and the prior administration to put such purchases through as a Field Purchase Order (FPO).
Clemente said the FPO required three signatures on a vehicle purchase: the police chief, the finance director and the public safety director (mayor) or the mayor’s designee. He added that the Police Department used Leer’s to purchase vehicles from auto auctions for a flat fee after the approvals were given, and said no commission was paid for the purchase of these vehicles.
Clemente added that the current administration is taking a fresh look at this policy and has made some changes. These include mandating that all purchases are done using an electronic purchasing system and have a purchase order associated with them, that all sign-offs be done through this system and that the mayor’s signature be included. He also said that going forward, his office will issue an RFP for any auction services used for these undercover vehicle buys.
The City Council, which is also calling for detailed information to be released about the money that has been spent on such undercover vehicles, is scheduled to take up the matter with Police Chief Paul King prior to the City Council meeting on Wednesday.
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