Five Rhode Island law enforcement agencies are faced with an enviable problem: what to do with $230 million forfeited by Google Inc.?
Investigators from local agencies are entitled to the money because they helped a federal investigation into the search engine's distribution of ads for illegal prescription drug sales. In 2011, Google agreed to forfeit $500 million, and last year the U.S. attorney announced the agencies that helped would receive shares ranging from $5 million to $60 million.
Since then, the Rhode Island agencies have spent or committed tens of millions of dollars in what's known colloquially as "Google money" to better fund police pensions, buy new police cars, upgrade technology and purchase weapons. They say they're still working out how to spend well over $100 million that's left. The windfall comes at an especially fortuitous time as the state and local governments have been grappling with years of budget cuts and underfunded pensions.
The awards represent a staggering sum for the beneficiaries -- the Rhode Island attorney general's office, state police, National Guard and the police departments in North Providence and East Providence.
The attorney general's office, for example, is entitled to $60 million, more than double its annual budget.
North Providence police are also entitled to the same amount, 10 times its annual budget, according to Police Chief Paul Martellini.
"It's an extraordinary amount of money," he said, adding that he hopes his department will be able to reinstitute some programs that have been cut in recent years, such as community outreach programs and putting an officer in the middle school. Officials are discussing building a new police department, and have already spent around $1.2 million for new vehicles and bought new computers and radios.
"It'll make it much more efficient to respond to calls. It's all about the service the public deserves," Martellini said.
Under the asset forfeiture program, the money can only be spent on things such as investigations, training and equipment, and there are several restrictions.
The U.S. Department of Justice must approve any spending. It made an exception to the rules in January to allow state police and the financially troubled East Providence and North Providence to put a total $85 million of Google money into their underfunded police pension plans.
Besides the pension money, only a small portion of what's left has been spent. The National Guard is still working on a plan for its $5 million entitlement, said Lt. Col. Peter Parente. (continued...)
© 2013 Associated Press/AP Online under contract with YellowBrix. All rights reserved.