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Cop, stripper testify in RI police chief's trial

By Laura Crimaldi
Associated Press / June 18, 2012
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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—A Pawtucket police officer on Monday testified that the police chief in North Providence confessed to him that he stole money from a pocketbook, handed him a crumpled wad of wet bills and then told him to spend it in Las Vegas and not say anything about it.

Officer John Brown became emotional as he described his encounter with suspended North Providence police Col. John J. Whiting on Aug. 28 during Tropical Storm Irene.

Whiting is accused of stealing $714 from a pocketbook he found in an SUV he chased in Pawtucket. Authorities say the money belonged to Justina Cardoso, a 21-year-old former dancer at the Satin Doll strip club in Providence who also testified on Monday, the opening day of the trial.

Prosecutors allege the 58-year-old Whiting solicited Brown and Pawtucket police Chief Paul King to cover up what happened. Whiting, of North Attleborough, Mass., has pleaded not guilty to one count of larceny over $500 and two counts of criminal solicitation to obstruct justice. In April, he turned down an offer from the prosecution to plead no contest and receive a five-year suspended sentence.

Brown testified he felt sick and frightened and thought he was being set up after Whiting told him he took money from a pocketbook and then gave it to him, telling him to "have fun with it" in Vegas.

"My career was flashing before my eyes," said Brown, a lifelong Pawtucket resident who has served on the city's police force for 24 years.

Brown said he went to a dead-end street in Pawtucket to investigate a report of Whiting being involved in a foot chase. Prosecutors say before the foot chase, Whiting told police he was trying to pass a green Ford Explorer SUV that was going around a downed tree. According to Whiting, someone inside the Ford Explorer threw a bottle at his SUV, prosecutors said.

Whiting said he then began chasing the Ford Explorer until they reached the dead-end street, where the occupants of the Ford Explorer got out and fled into the woods, according to Brown.

Brown said he got his first clue as to who might have been in the Ford Explorer when he found a paper license for Cardoso in a Coach pocketbook located in the rear of the vehicle. He said when he informed Whiting about finding the license, the police chief's "left arm started to shake and he got white."

Brown and Whiting later went to the location of the downed tree to look for what might have been thrown at Whiting's SUV, Brown said. While they were there, Brown said, a cellphone that he had seized from the Ford Explorer rang. Brown said the caller was Cardoso's mother, who was calling her daughter's cellphone.

Brown testified that he informed Whiting that the call confirmed that Cardoso was involved in the incident and that he was planning to go back to the Pawtucket police station to finish his investigation.

While Brown was sitting in his police cruiser, he said, Whiting approached him and said: "I never stole anything in my life" and then confessed to the theft.

After the money was handed over, Brown said, he returned to the Pawtucket police station, gave the $714 to his superiors and told them what had happened. State police then launched an investigation into Brown's claims, recording telephone calls between Whiting and Brown and Whiting and King, the Pawtucket police chief, according to court records.

Whiting shook his head at times as Brown delivered his account. Brown is expected to continue to testify on Tuesday.

Cardoso, the first witness called to testify Monday, said that she abandoned her SUV and belongings, including $714, and ran into the woods after her vehicle crashed while being pursued by Whiting.

"I had a warrant," she said.

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."

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