PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A former dancer at a strip club testified Monday that she abandoned her SUV and belongings and ran into the woods after her vehicle crashed while being pursued by a police chief now accused of stealing hundreds of dollars from her pocketbook.
Justina Cardoso was the first witness called to testify on the opening day of trial for suspended North Providence police Col. John J. Whiting.
Whiting, of North Attleborough, Mass., is accused of stealing $714 from a pocketbook he found after chasing an SUV on Aug. 28 during Hurricane Irene. Authorities allege Whiting confessed the theft to a Pawtucket police officer and then sought to cover up what happened.
He has pleaded not guilty to one count of larceny over $500 and two counts of criminal solicitation to obstruct justice. The 58-year-old Whiting opted to have his case tried in front of a judge instead of a jury.
Cardoso, of Pawtucket, testified that she left all her belongings, including $714, behind in her vehicle after the SUV she was riding in crashed during a chase. Authorities say Whiting was pursuing Cardoso's vehicle.
"I had a warrant," the 21-year-old Cardoso said.
In November, Cardoso pleaded no contest to three charges in an extortion and blackmail case and to one count of marijuana possession. She was given a five-year suspended sentence in the blackmail case and a year of probation in the drug case.
Cardoso also testified that a friend named Kevin was driving her vehicle when the chase began. She said she picked up Kevin on the side of the road and let him drive because she had been "doing pills."
Authorities say Whiting began chasing the Ford Explorer after he says someone inside threw a bottle at his vehicle. The chase ended when the SUV crashed into a parked car in Pawtucket and the occupants ran away, police records show.
Cardoso said she last worked at the Satin Doll strip club in Providence and is now unemployed. She testified that she is living with her grandparents and expecting her first child.
Prosecutors allege Whiting took the money from a Coach pocketbook that he found in a yard near the crash site. He later gave the money to Pawtucket police Officer John Brown, who was called to the scene to investigate a report of Whiting being involved in a foot chase, a police report said.
Whiting told Brown he'd "never stolen anything in my life," a police report said. He also told Brown to spend the money in Las Vegas and not say anything, the report said.
After the money was handed over, Brown returned to the Pawtucket police station, gave the $714 to his superiors and told them what had happened, Assistant Attorney General Mark Trovato said.
State police then launched an investigation into Brown's claims. Unbeknownst to Whiting, authorities recorded two phone calls between Brown and Whiting and one between Whiting and Pawtucket police Chief Paul King, police records show.
In one call, Whiting told Brown he had spoken with King and arranged to make the matter go away by having the cash put in an evidence bag and submitted as seized evidence, a state police affidavit said.
Still, Whiting denied stealing the money, telling Brown he gave him the cash because he was the Pawtucket officer on scene, according to a transcript of their conversation recorded by state police and filed in court.
In April, Whiting turned down an offer from the prosecution to plead no
contest and receive a five-year suspended sentence.
Related: Ex-stripper sues RI police chief
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