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RI police chief charged with larceny after chase

San Antonio Express-News,
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North Providence, RI

SCITUATE, R.I. (AP) — The police chief of North Providence, R.I., was arrested Thursday by state police on felony charges that he stole more than $700 out a vehicle involved in a police chase and then asked police to cover it up.

Col. John J. Whiting was charged with larceny over $500 and two counts of solicitation of obstruction of justice after being questioned by investigators, said state police Col. Steven G. O'Donnell.

Whiting has been suspended without pay and is scheduled to be arraigned later Thursday at state police headquarters, officials said.

Whiting, of North Attleboro, Mass., is the fifth North Providence official to face criminal charges in recent months. Three former town councilmen and a former town solicitor were sentenced to federal prison earlier this year for their roles in a bribery and extortion scheme.

A woman who answered the phone at Whiting's home and identified herself as his wife said the situation is a misunderstanding.

"My husband is a very honest man. You cannot find a better man than my husband," she said.

"It's disappointing," said Mayor Charles A. Lombardi at a news conference announcing Whiting's arrest. "Sometimes there are days that I think I just can't catch a break. But we'll move on."

Whiting's arrest won't jeopardize the police department's operations, Lombardi said. Deputy Chief Paul M. Martellini will be taking over, he said.

The 57-year-old Whiting was driving to work in an unmarked police vehicle on Sunday morning in preparation for Tropical Storm Irene when he began pursuing another vehicle, O'Donnell said. Whiting said someone inside the car threw an object at his vehicle, O'Donnell said.

The pursuit ended when the car crashed in Pawtucket and the three occupants exited, O'Donnell said. Then, state police say, Whiting stole $714 from a purse left behind in the car.

O'Donnell said Whiting confessed what he did to a Pawtucket officer about an hour after the crash.

"The chief told him: 'I'm about to tell you something. I stole some money and I want to give it to you,'" O'Donnell quoted Whiting as saying.

Whiting asked the officer "to cover it up and not to talk about it to anybody," O'Donnell said. Whiting also asked Pawtucket police Chief Paul King to fabricate evidence by requesting the officer return the $714 to the evidence room, O'Donnell said.

"Therefore, there would be no investigation," O'Donnell said.

Former town councilmen John Zambarano, Joseph Burchfield and Raymond Douglas III are serving federal prison sentences for their roles in a bribery and extortion scandal. Former North Providence Solicitor Robert Ciresi is scheduled to report to prison Tuesday to begin a 63-month sentence for his role in the scheme.

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