PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A suspended Rhode Island police chief was found guilty Tuesday of stealing $714 from a stripper's pocketbook, then urging another officer to take the money and spend it in Las Vegas, following a chase in Pawtucket as the remnants of Hurricane Irene hit the region.
North Providence police Col. John Whiting was convicted of larceny over $500 and solicitation to receive stolen goods by Providence County Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Procaccini for taking the money on Aug. 28. Whiting waived a jury trial in favor of a bench trial by the judge.
Whiting, 58, did not dispute that he took the money, but said it was not to steal it. Instead, he said he seized it as evidence.
Prosecutor Mark Trovato said during final arguments Tuesday that Whiting took the money because he was upset and felt disrespected after the occupants of the stripper's SUV made a rude gesture at him, then led him on a chase through storm-soaked streets.
"He took it out of anger, and, I would submit, he took it out of arrogance," Trovato told the judge. "He's a chief, and they're a carload of punks."
Whiting did not comment after the verdict, but his lawyer, John Harwood, said he was disappointed and would consider an appeal. Whiting remains free on bail.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, a former Pawtucket police officer, did not attend the hearing. He said in a statement it was disheartening that Whiting's more than 30-year career, one he called exemplary up until Aug. 28, was marred by a criminal act.
The incident started when Whiting came upon a green Ford Explorer as it maneuvered around a tree that had been blown into the road by the storm. Whiting testified that while he was trying to pass the SUV, someone inside threw an object at his vehicle. Whiting said he chased the vehicle until it turned down a dead-end street and struck a parked car. The occupants of the vehicle then fled, including the vehicle's owner, Justina Cardoso, at the time a dancer at the Satin Doll strip club in Providence. She testified that she left behind her money and other belongings.
Whiting said he went through the SUV looking for evidence that might indicate who was in the vehicle. He said he found money inside a zippered pouch and put it in his pocket for safekeeping. But prosecutors said he bypassed normal procedures for searches and did not initially turn the money over, passing up several opportunities to turn it over to the officer who responded to investigate, Pawtucket police Officer John Brown.
Brown testified that Whiting ultimately did approach him that day to turn over the money, confessed to stealing it and gave him the money with instructions to spend it in Las Vegas.
Whiting said when he turned over the money, Brown asked: "What, did you steal it or something?" Whiting said he angrily responded no and that he'd never stolen anything in his life.
Procaccini said Tuesday that it didn't make sense for Whiting to say he was securing the money because there were few people nearby. He also said Whiting waited too long to turn over the money.
Whiting's lawyer made a last-minute request for the judge to reduce the larceny charge to a misdemeanor and throw out the solicitation charge because of a law signed by the governor last month that raises the bar for felony larceny cases to $1,500, rather than $500. Procaccini rejected the request.
Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 14.