-By Seth Daniel
The one-foot high replica R2-D2 robot was dubbed in a catalog as the “head strong little droid” from the Star Wars films that responded to voice commands and made one’s home “feel like it had been transported to a galaxy far, far away.”
That thought of being far, far away was allegedly too much for former Revere Library Director Bob Rice Jr. to resist.
So, he embarked, allegedly, on a journey that could possibly take him where no library director has gone before – to jail.
The R2-D2 robot – and about 147 other bizarre items – was a thing that Rice could not pass up, so much so that he allegedly engaged in a years-long pattern of buying such things through the Internet on the City’s dime.
It was – he told police – part of a problem he couldn’t control. He was a shopaholic.
“[Rice] denied having a narcotic or gambling addiction,” wrote Revere Police Capt. Dennis Collyer in newly unsealed court documents. “He attributed his behavior as approximating a shopaholic.”
Search warrants from Rice’s case were unsealed at Chelsea District Court late last week and the Journal discovered that investigators removed 148 items from Rice’s Gore Road home on February 14. All items were allegedly purchased illicitly with City funds, and they were found in Rice’s home more than two years after the City first began investigating him.
The unsealed warrants also revealed that Rice confessed to the crimes in a recorded statement to Revere Police investigators two years ago – when inconsistencies were first uncovered by the City’s financial department.
“During a recorded interview, Rice confessed to me that he submitted numerous requisitions that he intentionally falsified in order to procure goods by deceiving the Purchasing Agent for the City of Revere,” wrote Collyer in an application for the warrants. “He offered to pay full restitution and subsequently resigned…Rice also confessed that on two occasions vendors issued refund checks to him and that he cashed the checks and deposited them into his personal bank account.”
Rice has not responded to his indictment – which came last month – and is on tap to be arraigned today, April 6, in Boston’s Suffolk Superior Court. He has not responded to a request for comment from the Journal, which contacted him on the day of his indictment.
“[Those confessions] kind of undermine the suggestion that there was a vendetta against him by this administration,” said Mayor Tom Ambrosino, referring to a strange interview Rice did with a Lowell newspaper in 2010 alleging that the fix was on in his removal.
After two painstaking years of financial detective work using the resources of the Revere Police and a civilian forensic accountant, police allege that they uncovered a plot going back to 2005 where Rice would purchase items over the Internet with City funds – using forged purchase orders to fool City financial overseers. Once purchased, he would often sell those items on Internet sites like eBay.
And it worked for quite some time, as alleged by police.
“For example, one invoice indicated a bookcase was ordered,” read Collyer’s narrative. “However, the actual invoice obtained from the vendor shows that an elephant tusk sculpture was shipped to [Rice’s Revere home]. Another purchase he admitted he disguised as a set of books, when in fact he purchased a ladies Rolex watch.”
In a decadent allegation of fraud, police allege that Rice bought 90 sets of a 9-DVD collection called “The Alien Quadrilogy.” Each set cost $79.98.
Only two of the 90 sets were located in the Revere library.
Police said they found Rice sold 32 of those sets on eBay. They don’t know what happened to the rest.
Over five years, police alleged Rice sold 1,500 items from his eBay account, including 249 items for $13,000 within the final 10 months of his employment with the City.
“The items sold on eBay match items that were purchased on behalf of the City,” read the warrants. “The crime analyst has been able to match eBay sales to stolen items dating back to 2005…The investigation shows Rice was selling many of the missing items on eBay and depositing the profits into his personal account for years. The ink, toner, Rosetta Stone software and a great deal of the books and DVDs purchased from the vendor Baker & Taylor have been sold on eBay.”
All eBay sales from his account came to a halt once he resigned from the City in 2009.
Collyer also cautioned, “Many of the items purchased have never been found.”
In an effort to explain why the City never caught on to Rice after so many years of alleged fraudulent activity, Mayor Ambrosino said the deception was so clever that it eluded the most careful of eyes.
“I think his deception was clever,” he said. “If I had to hazard a guess I would say it went on long before 2005. There’s only so much research the state could put into this.”
All of that, of course, was the more normal part of the case – the alleged defrauding of the City for cash profit.
The other part of the case is the alleged purchase of hundreds of eccentric items that Rice kept in his home – both his home in Revere and in Rowley, MA.
Of the 148 items that were removed as part of the police search, many of those items were toys, antiques, collectibles or eccentricities.
The purchases were very child-like, and even peculiarly innocent, in a way, for someone who is alleged to have been up to so much mischief.
It was as if someone had given an 11-year-old a credit card with no limit and no restrictions.
The R2-D2 voice-activated robot had an age suggestion of “8 and Up.”
Of the items recovered at the home – which again – had been there for more than two years despite an ongoing investigation, were:
•A replica Thompson (Tommy Gun) Machine Gun
•Five pairs of binoculars, one with night vision.
•Two Roomba Vacuum Cleaners
•Superman Statue (10 inches tall, solid bronze)
•A Top Hat and cuff links
•Coin Set ($2,500)
•Two, 3-foot tall Obelisks
•Scuba diving gear
•Two elephant tusks
•Starship Enterprise model (from Star Trek)
•Three portable shortwave radios
•Set of Premium Hair Cutting scissors
•A toddler antique pedal car with squeeze horn – (“An old auto will get tykes where they need to go,” read the catalog description)
•An Ice Cream machine
•Bird houses (some costing $200 or more)
•A bust of Thomas Jefferson
Additionally, there were scads of wall racks, marble tables, carved pieces of furniture, Buddhist statues, fireplace equipment, pedestals and other home décor items.
Rice worked at the library for 27 years, and was its director for 12 years. Ironically, his late father was a noted Boston Police detective.
While things in Revere don’t appear to be going well for former Revere Library Director Bob Rice Jr. right now, it’s an entirely different story north of the Massachusetts border where Rice still serves as the director of the Pelham (NH) Public Library.
Despite his indictment last month, and ongoing revelations and allegations about his time in Revere, Pelham stands by their man.
In a statement to the Journal, Pelham Library Trustee Chair Fran Garboski said they knew of Rice’s troubles in Revere when they hired him in 2009, but were satisfied with his explanations. They said he is a great director.
“The Pelham Public Library Board of Trustees is surprised by the recent actions taken against Bob Rice with respect to his service to the library in Revere,” read the statement. “When we hired Bob in Oct 2009, we were aware there were issues regarding his prior position. Nevertheless, we were satisfied with his explanation, and his references were excellent.
“Bob’s service to the Pelham Public Library has been nothing short of exemplary,” the statement continued. “All of our financial matters are accurate to the penny, and our financial reports are open to public review at any time. We have complete confidence in our director to effectively run the library, and have no evidence to question his ability to perform his job. This board will continue to support him and look forward to putting this unpleasant situation behind us.”