EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 28, 2011

Pelham to hold library head's job while he's in jail

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

PELHAM — The library director is heading to jail for six months, but his job will be waiting for him when he gets out.

Robert Rice Jr., 46, was sentenced yesterday to six months behind bars for stealing more than $200,000 when he was the director of Revere Public Library.

Rice was sentenced in Superior Court in Boston on 18 felony charges for taking money from 2005 to 2009, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office.

Rice pleaded guilty to fraud and embezzlement charges as part of a plea bargain. He bought numerous items under the pretense they were for the Revere library, but then kept or sold them.

Shortly after resigning in 2009 while under fire in Revere, Rice took the position in Pelham.

Francis Garboski, chairman of the Pelham Library trustees, said yesterday Rice's job is still safe.

"His position will be held until he gets back," Garboski said. "The decision is up to him when he wants to come back."

Among the things Rice bought, allegedly for the library, were a 3-foot replica of a submachine gun, diving gear, a Leica camera, a Rolex watch, Red Sox baseballs, swords and armor. He is believed to have conducted more than 1,500 online auctions.

Judge Carol Ball yesterday sentenced Rice to two years in jail, with all but six months suspended for two years, according to Erika Gully-Santiago, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. Three larceny charges were dropped because they were similar to the embezzlement charges, she said.

Rice must pay $260,000 in restitution. He will write a check for $230,000, with the remaining $30,000 coming from an auction of the items he bought that were seized by police, Gully-Santiago said.

"There were multiple times taken from his home in Revere that the city will have access to sell," Gully-Santiago said.

Rice is to begin serving his sentence tomorrow at the South Bay House of Correction in Boston, she said. He was granted a two-day stay of sentence because of medical issues, Gully-Santiago said.

He would sometimes disguise the items on purchase orders. The submachine gun, for example, was described as "Thompsons Machine Gun Encyc (4 vol. set)" and the camera was listed as "The Leica V-Lux Encyclopedia of the Camera (6 book set)."

Assistant District Attorney Benjamin Goldberger said after the city of Revere paid for the items, believing they were for the library, Rice would sometimes sell them on eBay.

Revere police Chief Terence Reardon said yesterday he was pleased with Rice's sentence.

"We found it was justified and we will go on from there," he said.

But Reardon also said Pelham officials should have listened to Revere investigators when they told them Rice was under investigation.

Pelham trustees have said they were aware of Rice's troubles in Revere when he was hired in October 2009, but were satisfied by his explanation and impressed with his references.

"I would say the city has been vindicated," Reardon said. "He told the people in New Hampshire quite a different story and they chose to believe him instead of us."

The items Rice bought will be returned to the city in about a week for the auction, Reardon said.

But Garboski said Rice has done a good job in Pelham. He declined to respond when told of Reardon's comments.

Garboski said state law prevents trustees from terminating Rice for crimes that occurred in another state, although he's now a convicted felon.

He also said library trustees in New Hampshire are restricted in what they can do, compared to those in Massachusetts.

"The trustees have to — must — call any shots when it comes to any money that is used or billed out," Garboski said. "This is no shot against the trustees of Revere, but they are probably very lax in their responsibility."

Rice, who earns about $46,000 a year in Pelham, was granted an unpaid leave of absence two weeks ago. He requested the leave for personal reasons, trustees said. Carol Roberts was named interim director.

Rice refused an offer from trustees earlier this year to take a leave of absence. That offer came in March after he was indicted on 21 counts of larceny, fraud and embezzlement.

Neither Rice nor his attorney, Stephen Tassinari, could be reached for comment yesterday.

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