What Happens In North Providence, Doesn't Stay In North Providence

by by Caroline Soussloff

illustration by by Becca Levinson

On the stormy morning of August 28, 2011, Officer John Brown received a radio call. Chief Whiting needed backup; he had two suspects fleeing the scene of a crime. As he sped down Paisley Street, Officer Brown saw a car crash through the rain—a 1999 green Ford Explorer slammed against a parked car—and, behind it, an undercover police car, lights blazing.

Chief Whiting informed Officer Brown that he had lost the suspects, but only after an automobile chase through city streets, resulting in the collision. Strewn about the backseat of the Explorer were “women’s lingerie, clothing, and high heeled shoes”—all dry. But then: a pocketbook—curiously soaked, Officer Brown noted—containing the driver’s license of a Ms. Justina Cardoso, but no cash.

This is John Whiting’s version of the story. He was Chief of the North Providence Police Department, but has since been relieved of duty and charged with larceny and two counts of obstruction of justice for reasons that will become apparent. Even by Ocean State standards, the affidavit against him is notable, a cross-genre narrative of noir and farce.

Having lost sight of his suspects on Paisley Street on that fateful rainy morning, Chief Whiting searched their vehicle. Finding Ms. Cardoso’s wallet, he removed it from the car and discovered that it contained $714 in cash. This he promptly pocketed. He then tossed the now-rain-drenched wallet into the backseat, where, of course, Officer Brown would rediscover it, minutes later.

In the end, Officer Brown did not get to crack the case. Instead, Chief Whiting provided him with an anxious, unsolicited confession. He then made him an offer that was remarkably philanthropic in light of the fact that the chief was experiencing marital problems and probably could have used a vacation. “‘I know you like to go to Las Vegas,’” Chief Whiting said, “‘Take this money and have fun. Don’t say anything about it.’”

Unfortunately for Chief Whiting, Officer Brown did say something. What followed next were several botched attempts at a cover-up, culminating in the Mafioso phone message, “‘I spoke to that guy, just do what he said and follow his instructions.’”

Still, the scandal might have transpired without becoming too much of a sensation were it not for the capture of Justina Cardoso, wronged owner of the green Ford, lingerie and high-heeled shoes. She crunched the numbers for the State Police: $200 of what had been in the wallet came from her stripping gig at the Satin Doll, $600 was a “gift” received after a night spent with a client at the Comfort Inn. There is something profoundly cyclical in that, had it ended up in Vegas after all, the money could have journeyed from the pocketbook of one stripper to another.

Today, Whiting is out on bail, awaiting his fate. If sentenced, he will be in good company. North Providence is in the process of assembling a veritable old boys’ club behind bars. In May, three of the town’s councilmen, including the Town Council President, were arrested for bribery and extortion. At least they had the good sense to pocket that cash for themselves.