NORTH PROVIDENCE — Col. John J. Whiting, the town's police chief and a former Pawtucket Police major, was released on bail but remains suspended without pay following his arraignment on Thursday on felony charges that he stole $714 out of a vehicle involved in a police chase and then asked Pawtucket Police to cover it up.
Whiting, 57, of North Attleboro, was arraigned before Christopher T. Millea, esq. on one count of larceny over $500 for unlawfully stealing $714 from Justina Cardoso, of Pawtucket, and two counts each of soliciting another to commit a crime (Pawtucket Police Officer John Brown in one instance and Pawtucket Police Chief Paul King in the other).
Whiting entered no plea and was released on $10,000 personal recognizance pending a court review on Sept. 9. He was also ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation, have no possession of firearms, including any in his personal use, and to have no contact with Brown and King.
Whiting, a 29-year veteran with the Pawtucket Police Department, was appointed as police chief in North Providence in 2008 by North Providence Mayor Charles A. Lombardi.
In speaking with the Times on Friday, Lombardi said of the incident, “I'm beside myself. In my opinion, John Whiting did a good job.”
Lombardi said that Deputy Chief Paul Martinelli would serve as acting chief and stressed that the day-to-day operation of the town's police department would not be affected in any way. “I want to assure all of our residents and taxpayers that this was an isolated, external situation,” the mayor said. “It was not internal in any way, and we will continue to function with the good men and women we have in the department,” he said.
Whiting was arrested by Rhode Island State Police on Thursday following an investigation of the Sunday, Aug. 28 incident involving the police chase and the stolen money. Pawtucket Police had asked the State Police to handle the investigation due to its sensitivity and the fact that Whiting was a former Pawtucket Police officer.
According to the court affidavit submitted by State Police Lt. John D. Lemont, Officer John Brown said he was dispatched to Paisely Street in Pawtucket for a report that Whiting had been involved in a foot pursuit with suspects who had fled from a vehicle that had hit a parked car. Whiting told Brown he had been traveling west on Mineral Spring Avenue behind a green Ford Explorer when he came upon a downed tree. He said he passed the Explorer on the left and that someone in the vehicle threw an object, possible a bottle, at his vehicle.
Whiting told Brown that he began a pursuit of the Explorer, but it failed to stop and eventually crashed into a parked car at 24 Paisley St. Whiting told Brown he didn't see the suspects fee and their could have been one or two involved.
Brown, conducting the accident investigation, said he thought it perplexing that there was a Coach pocketbook inside the vehicle which was soaking wet, while other items found inside the car were dry. Through a cell phone also left in the vehicle, he located the owner of the crashed Explorer and relayed this information to Whiting, as well as showing him the seized pocketbook.
According to the affidavit, Brown said that a nervous-looking Whiting approached him and told him he had found a pocketbook, “loaded with cash” in a rear yard at 24 Paisely St. He reportedly told Brown that he had stolen money out of it and put it in the rear of the Explorer before he arrived on the scene. After twice telling Brown “I've never stolen anything in my life,” Whiting allegedly handed Brown a roll of wet money and urged him to go to Las Vegas and “have fun” with it. He also reportedly told him “Don't say anything about it.”
Brown said he immediately drove to the Pawtucket Police Station and turned the money, totaling $714, over to Capt. Michael Newman and also relayed to him what had transpired. Upon a further investigation of the accident scene by Pawtucket Police, a witness said he had observed Whiting inside the Explorer for five to 10 minutes and did not see him chase anyone or walk away with any items.
The affidavit also stated that on Monday, Aug. 28, members of the State Police Violent Fugitive Task Force located Justina Cardosa, the owner of the Explorer, and placed her under arrest for an outstanding bench warrant. The 21-year-old, who works as a stripper at the Satin Doll in Providence, told police that she had about $720 in her purse that night.
Cardosa said she had been driving down Mineral Spring Avenue on Aug. 28 when she saw two men, one of whom she knew, and picked them up. She said she asked one of the men to driver her vehicle, and he had gestured and swore at the driver of a black SUV that had tried to go around their vehicle.
Cardosa said that she and the two men did not know that the black SUV, driven by Whiting, was a police vehicle. She also said she didn't know why the man driving refused to stop, but that after the crash, she and the two men fled. She said she ran away because of having the outstanding court warrant and had left behind her Coach pocketbook, containing about $720 in cash, her cell phone, and other personal belongings.
The affidavit further references two cell phone calls, one from Tuesday, Aug. 30, in which Whiting allegedly directs Brown to not say anything about the money if questioned by the State Police, and also encourages him to misrepresent the facts and circumstances about how the money was seized, the manner in which it was turned over to Brown by Whiting, and what was said by Whiting when he gave Brown the money.
Reportedly, in another cell phone call placed on Aug. 21, Whiting tells Brown that he had contacted Chief Paul King and had arranged for a way to make the matter go away by placing the money in an evidence bag and submitting it as seized evidence. The affidavit states that Whiting further encouraged Brown to lie to his chief and how to go about doing this so it is handled by King and not the State Police.
The affidavit cites a third cell phone call on Wed., Aug. 31 in which Whiting solicits King and arranged to cover up the officer's actions by allowing him to give the money back and submit it as seized evidence, thus avoiding a criminal investigation by the State Police and the matter being handled by King.
The affidavit also states that on Wednesday, Whiting had left a message on the home answering machine of Brown's brother-in-law, Dusty Kinch, allegedly directing Kinch to pass a message to Brown that “I spoke to that guy, just do what he said and follow his instructions.”
Whiting was later contacted by State Police Col. O'Donnell and asked to respond to State Police headquarters for an interview. Approximately five minutes later, King contacted O'Donnell and said that Whiting has just called him and wanted to make sure that Brown had returned the money and if King verified that it had been placed in evidence. After further phone exchanges between the State Police and Whiting and a based on the circumstances and facts of the case, the State Police then issued an arrest warrant for Whiting.