Wed December 22, 2010
Secrets of RI's greatest heist revealed by two generations of reporters
By IAN DONNIS
PROVIDENCE, RI – Jack White was the dean of investigative reporters in Rhode Island. He won a Pulitzer Prize at the Providence Journal in 1974 for revealing how Richard Nixon had cheated on his taxes. And he continued to break news for years afterward as the investigative reporter at Channel 12. A prime example came when former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci learned of his indictment in 2001.
"I heard it from the press," Cianci said. "I heard it from Jack White."
Jack White died suddenly from a heart attack at age 63 in 2005. So his son, Tim White, had big shoes to fill the next year when he gave up an editor's job in Boston to become the investigative reporter at Channel 12. But Tim White also had some built-in advantages - especially when it came to the famed Bonded Vault robbery.
"I was interested in this story from when I was fresh out of diapers," White recalls. "I mean, I grew up with it . . . I loved it, dad was reporting on it when I was a kid, and I would ask him, going to bed at night to tell me more about, you know, the big robbery."
The Bonded Vault heist took place on August, 14, 1975, at the Hudson Fur Storage company on Cranston Street in Providence. A band of armed gunmen wiped out a secret room of safe deposit boxes used by members of the Mafia and their associates. Tim White began three years ago to try to learn more about the true scope of the robbery.
"Conservative estimates at the time were that $4 million was taken from Bonded Vault," White says. "We know now, after scores of interviews with law enforcement - 35 years later they're more willing to talk - that the take at the time was probably $30 million. So that value in jewelry, gold coins, and silver bars and whatnot, would be valued a lot higher now."
Authorities at the time suspected Raymond L.S. Patriarca , who ran organized crime in New England from a vending machine shop on Atwells Avenue. That view was confirmed by Bonded Vault lead gunman Robert "the Deuce" Dussault, in a never-before-seen videotape obtained by Tim White.
"We had the OK from the man," Dussault told a group of police cadets. "You know who I mean by that, the old man, the uno, Raymond Patriarca, the boss of New England. Nobody does nothing in this whole area without his OK and without him getting a piece of the action."
White says Patriarca set Bonded Vault in motion after serving prison time for his role in a murder.
"He was down in Atlanta. And when he got out," White says, "the belief is that his cut or his take in what he felt should have been coming to him when he was in prison wasn't where it should have been. So to teach a lesson, he robbed from his own guys."
Authorities were never able to formally link Patriarca with the crime, and the old mob boss died from a heart attack in 1984. Of the eight gunmen charged in the case, two were acquitted and four were convicted - in the lengthiest, most costly trial in state history. Two others turned state's evidence, including lead gunman Robert Dussault. Thanks to an envelope left by Jack White linking Dussault to a new identity, Tim White learned more new details after obtaining Dussault's FBI file.
"He was put into the witness protection program," White says. "To me, one of the most telling things from the FBI file is while he was in the witness protection program, he crisscrossed the country, with a prostitute, and robbed banks and businesses absolutely blind while under the thumb of the federal government."
Most of the take from Bonded Vault is thought to have gone to moss boss Patriarca, with the eight robbers themselves winding up disposable and left out. White says it also marked the beginning of the end of the true power of organized crime in New England.
"This was an organization that was built on loyalty," he says, "and this crime was robbing from the mob itself. They were feeding on themselves, and it really planted a seed of distrust among the members of organized crime and the associates."
I should note that I've worked with both Jack White and Tim White on Channel 12's "Newsmakers" program. And our conversations about Tim White's work on this story made me curious about what he found.
White says he's often thought about his late father while uncovering more of the untold story of Bonded Vault.
"It's bittersweet, because dad and I would always talk about what happened to the lead gunman or some of the other players in there," he says. "Now, only after his death do I know what happened, and gee, I'd love to share it with him."
White is developing his Bonded Vault findings into a book, with two of his late father's peers, former ProJo reporters Wayne Worcester and Randall Richard. A half-hour special report based on their findings is set to air at 5:30 pm Friday on Channel 12.
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