Lombardi will lobby for Google-funded investment

Lombardi will lobby for Google-funded investment

NORTH PROVIDENCE - Mayor Charles Lombardi says he won't take no for an answer on a failed request to the U.S. Department of Justice to allow local police to use their Google money to create a permanent funding stream.

Lombardi told The Breeze that he doesn't plan to give up easily on the idea of making a "wise investment" with the Google cash, just like when he previously lobbied successfully to use $20.6 million in Google cash to fix the ailing police pension fund.

Lombardi said he plans to call a meeting shortly with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a man who was integral in getting the pension fix approved, in hopes of getting the denial overturned. Justice officials said no to the pension fix as well, said the mayor, but relented after he brought the issue to state and federal officials.

As reported in a column by Breeze Publisher Tom Ward last week, town officials are trying to make the Google money last by investing it in new and creative ways. Lombardi and Chief Paul Martellini asked the Department of Justice for permission to spend $20 million of the $60 million won in the 2012 settlement with the search giant by investing it in an endowment fund with the Rhode Island Foundation.

Justice officials denied the request to create the "North Providence Law Enforcement Fund," saying it goes against their guidelines. That decision came even after police and town officials made the case that they would likely rake in at least $800,000 in annual returns by investing it.

"If they're not agreeable to us investing with someone like the Foundation, I just have a hard time digesting that," said Lombardi. "We're going to do whatever we can."

This is not about disrespecting the decision made by Justice officials, said Lombardi, but about doing everything possible to get what's best for local taxpayers.

Some North Providence residents have complained that local police are spending their Google money too fast, seemingly scooping up all the shiny new items they can, from state-of-the-art cars and guns, to computers and tasers.

Chief Paul Martellini insists that he is focused on addressing needs over wants, that wisely setting his department up to have great resources for years to come is his highest priority with the money. But Martellini has also pointed out that his department isn't allowed to just sit on its winnings, meaning the money must be spent or it gets forfeited.

According to the letter from Martellini and Lombardi to the Department of Justice, annual funding from the Rhode Island Foundation "not only gives North Providence ample ability to meet its law enforcement needs today, but it will serve the law enforcement needs of (the town) for our children, grandchildren, and future generations."

The North Providence Police Department won $60 million in 2012 as part of a settlement with Google over illegal advertising practices. North Providence Detective James Watts assisted with the investigation, starting in 2008, helping to build a case against the search giant for distributing online ads for Canadian pharmacies that were illegally marketing prescription drugs to Americans.

Police have so far won approval to spend about $25 million of the $60 million.