Cases are Anything but Closed DA’s Office Still Looking into Tree Contract, Possible Library Fraud

By Seth Daniel

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With the start of 2011, there are still a few outstanding legal matters that haven’t been cleared up from years past.

This week, though, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office indicated that a new year doesn’t mean they haven’t stopped working on two prominent Revere city government cases – including the faulty tree trimming contract and the alleged fraud at the Revere Public Library.

DA Dan Conley’s spokesman Jake Wark told the Journal that he has numerous requests for information on the cases, and that they are both still open.

In fact, he said that interest is so high in both cases that the office is breaking a bit from protocol on their public comments.

“It’s normally my practice not to confirm, deny, or discuss investigations in the absence of charges, but I’d be the only one holding to that policy in these two cases — everyone else is talking about them, and not commenting would only seem disingenuous,” he told the Journal in an e-mail. “That said, I can’t be any more specific than saying that both investigations are open. Both involve extensive financial analysis by this office and agencies. Probes of this sort are rarely quick but they are always thorough.”

The first case involves the city’s former contractor for tree trimming and tree removal, Dan Hibbard – a Revere native who now lives in Winthrop.

That story broke last summer to great fanfare that included several stories in the Journal and a lengthy I-Team investigation on Boston’s Channel 5.

The case involves hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of financial and contractual information. That information was being passed around to numerous individuals at the outset of the story, and based on that and other information, city officials, the Revere Housing Authority and Chelsea School Department officials abruptly cancelled contracts with Hibbard’s company.

At some point after that, DA Conley’s office and the state Attorney General’s office got involved.

Since then, many have wondered if the cases were still open. A shroud of mystery surrounds some of the dealings with Hibbard, including what appears to be an open-and-shut drug case in Essex County that has been continued seven times in three years.

Officials from the Essex County DA’s Office indicated that the most recent trial date in the drug case, on Nov. 30th, had been postponed. It is now scheduled for trial on Feb. 15.

Victims in the tree trimming case – with all of its complicated branches – wondered if their case might also fall under the same cloud.

At the moment, though, Conley’s office is saying ‘no’ to that – indicating that they are diligently working on all of the particulars, and there are many.

Those same questions have been asked for more than a year of the alleged fraud case surrounding Robert Rice Jr., the former Revere Public Library Director.

In late 2008, Rice abruptly resigned amidst some cryptic allegations that he had purchased many items that had nothing to do with library functions.

He has maintained his innocence throughout, but an independent audit done in 2009 didn’t help matters for him. That audit uncovered numerous items, including Rolex watches and real ivory elephant tusks – among many other things – that were purchased with City funds and are being questioned.

The audit was turned over to the District Attorney in 2009, and according to that office, it is still being pored over.

Rice has since taken a job as the library director in Pelham, NH.

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