Bonded Vault heist

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The Bonded Vault heist was a robbery of the Bonded Vault Company, an unofficial "bank" used by the Patriarca crime family and associates, on August 14, 1975. Bonded Vault was a commercial safe-deposit business occupying a vault inside Hudson Fur Storage in Providence, Rhode Island. The stolen valuables were worth about $30 million (equivalent to $133.5 million in 2016). According to The Providence Journal it was among the biggest heists in U.S. history, and resulted in the longest and costliest criminal trial in state history.[1][2]

Background

Hudson Fur Storage was a commercial storage facility on 101 Cranston Street, in the West End neighborhood of Providence.[1] Inside the red brick former church, a large vault housed 146 large safe-deposit boxes. Each box was "two feet high, two feet wide and four or five feet deep," according to WPRI.[2] The boxes were a separate legal entity from Hudson Fur Storage, called the Bonded Vault Company. The vault was used by members of the Patriarca crime family and their associates. The valuables contained in the vault were initially estimated to be about $4 million, though later in the investigation estimates increased to about $30 million (equivalent to $133,500,000 in 2016).[1][3]

Heist

On August 14, 1975, eight men traveled in a van to Hudson Fur Storage: Robert "The Deuce" Dussault, Charles "Chucky" Flynn, Joe "The Dancer" Danese, Gerald "Gerry" Tillinghast, Ralph Byrnes, Jacob Tarzian, John Ouimette, and Walter Ouimette.

The storage facility had a minimal[clarification needed] security system, thought to be unnecessary due to the reputation of Patriarca and his associates.[2]

At around 8:00 AM Dussault entered the business by the front door, wearing sunglasses and a suit and carrying a briefcase, posing as a client.[2][4] Dussault pointed a .38-caliber revolver at business co-owner Samuel Levine and warned employees not to "reach for any buttons or I'll blow your head off".[5] Dussault had Levine gather his employees in an office, where Dussault had them put pillowcases over their heads.[2][5] Six of the other men then entered the business, while one remained outside as a look-out.[2] The thieves tried and failed to drill their way into the safe deposit boxes, but succeeded by using a crowbar to pry the doors off their hinges, and proceeded to stuff valuables into duffel bags.[2]

On their way out, the robbers shut employees in a bathroom. Dussault told them to wait five minutes before leaving, and one of the thieves took co-owner Hyman Levine's driver's license, threatening him not to try to identify them.[2][5] The employees left the bathroom after waiting about five minutes, and pushed the business's alarm button to call the police, roughly 90 minutes after the robbery began.[5][2]

According to witness Barbara Oliva, an employee of Hudson Fur Storage unaware of the secret bank, the men called each other "Harry" to conceal their real names.[2][6] She told WPRI that “They were yelling, ‘Oh, Harry, you gotta come! You would not believe what’s in here! You just won’t believe!' They were taking turns going back and forth, and they were going, ‘Holy Christ, look at all this stuff – we’ll never be able to carry it all outta here.’”[2] When the thieves left, Oliva entered the vault and saw it to be "knee-deep with bars of gold and silver and all kinds of jewels. There were loose coins, a jeweled chalice, cash, guns."[6]

Aftermath

After leaving Hudson Fur Storage, the thieves returned to a hideout Flynn had rented at 5 Golf Avenue in East Providence.[4][2] They divided what they had stolen, with each taking $64,000 in cash and planning to split what they could get for some of the jewelry and other non-cash valuables.[2]

Dussault took his share to Las Vegas, where he went on a successful gambling streak and met an expensive prostitute, Karyne Sponheim, with whom he formed a relationship and began traveling the country.[4] He went through his share of the loot and his gambling winnings relatively quickly, and Sponheim maxed her credit cards. Dussault began calling his associates back home to ask for additional money from the heist. His associates began to worry he would do something rash or talk to the wrong people, so they sent Flynn to Las Vegas to kill him.[4]

According to Dussault, he was ready, and confronted Flynn with a shotgun in a Las Vegas parking lot, telling Flynn to get into a car with him. Flynn and Dussault had been close friends growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts, and began to talk about their past. According to Dussault, both men began to cry and he talked his way out of the hit. Flynn returned to a hotel where Danese, who had traveled with Flynn, was angry the killing didn't take place, though they returned to Rhode Island anyway.[4]

Soon after, in January 1976, Dussault and Sponheim got into a violent argument after which Dussault was arrested in Las Vegas.[2] When he was identified by fingerprint and by his tattoos, law enforcement officers from Providence flew to Nevada to interrogate him.[2] Providence officer Tony Mancuso told Dussault that Flynn had been killed and their associates were planning to kill Dussault next. Mancuso fabricated the story, but Dussault believed him and confessed everything.[4][6]

Prosecution and legacy

The Bonded Vault heist was the biggest heist in Rhode Island history, the largest in the Northeast at the time, and The Providence Journal ranks it as one of the biggest in U.S. history.[4][6][1]

A source from within the Patriarca crime family gave the names of most of the people involved to the police soon after the heist, leaving police to find the thieves and build a case.[2] Additionally, Oliva was able to describe both Dussault and Flynn, who were not wearing masks when they entered, to police because the pillowcase put over her head was threadbare and transparent.[2] According to former Providence Journal reporter Wayne Worcester, “Oliva really put them away. Nobody else was forthcoming with any kind of information that was very helpful at all. She really was a hero.”[2]

Witnesses were closely guarded and the courtroom heavily staffed with armed police.[2] Oliva, as a key witness, said "They had detectives living with me, in my house, around the house, around the neighborhood. They helped fold baby diapers."[2]

Two of the men, Dussault and Danese, turned state's evidence and testified against the other six. Their trial lasted for four months and, according to RINPR, was "the lengthiest, most costly trial in state history."[3] The courtroom became known for outbursts and other drama. At one point, Tillinghast's lawyer stopped inviting him to the courtroom due to his comments, including antagonizing and threatening the prosecutor.[4]

After deliberating for seven hours, a jury reached a verdict, convicting three and acquitting three. The men were brought into the courtroom one-by-one to hear their respective verdicts. Walter Ouimette, charged with conspiracy and being an accessory before the fact, was acquitted on both counts. Gerald Tillinghast and Jacob Tarzian were likewise found not guilty on all counts. Ralph Byrnes was found guilty in 13 of 14 counts, including robbery, kidnapping, and possession of burglary tools. The only charge he was found to be innocent of was assault with a pistol. Charles Flynn was also found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison, though he was released after about 10 years.[6] John Ouimette was found guilty of conspiracy and being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to 45 years, with 15 years suspended, although his conviction was overturned 10 years into his sentence.[4][7][1]

The difference between the guilty and not guilty results came down to alibis. The prosecution was able to break the alibis of John Ouimette, Byrnes, and Flynn, but struggled to disprove the alibis of Tillinghast, Walter Ouimette, and Tarzian.[4]

After Dussault turned state's evidence, he was put into a federal witness protection program.[3] While in the program, Dussault continued to rob banks and other establishments. When a July 1982 coin store robbery went wrong, he was arrested, then convicted and sent to prison in Colorado. At some point he was sent to a halfway house in North Dakota, and died of a heart attack in 1992.[3][6][2]

Law enforcement suspected the involvement of Raymond L. S. Patriarca, leader of the Patriarca crime family, but he was never prosecuted.[3] His involvement was confirmed years later by both retired FBI agents who had been involved in the investigation and by Dussault himself, who stated that the robbery was executed at the request of the boss.[4][8][6] After the heist, the thieves claimed they only received less than $100,000 each, with the most valuable loot, including gold, jewelry, and gems, going to Patriarca.[2][3][6][4] According to Dussault, Patriarca, who was serving a prison sentence, did not feel as though he was receiving what he was due from his associates while in prison and decided to steal from them to teach them a lesson.[4][3] According to Dussault, Patriarca had the door to the vault left open for them that day, and had even called for the robbery to be rescheduled at one point because his son, Raymond Patriarca, Jr., wanted to take his valuables out of the safe first.[4][2]

Investigative reporter Tim White, who co-wrote a book about the heist, The Last Good Heist (2016), points to the heist as marking the decline of organized crime's power in the area, due to the distrust it sowed among its members and associates.[3]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e Milkovits, Amanda (March 27, 2017). "John Ouimette, mastermind of Bonded Vault heist, has died". Providence Journal. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w White, Tim (November 11, 2010). "Secrets of Bonded Vault heist revealed". WPRI-TV. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Donnis, Ian. "Secrets of RI's greatest heist revealed by two generations of reporters". RINPR. Retrieved July 2, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Stuart-Pontier, Zac; Smerling, Marc (November 21, 2016). "Chapter Four: The Bonded Vault Heist". Crimetown. Season 1. Gimlet Media. 
  5. ^ a b c d Worcester, Wayne. "Robber team raids safe deposit firm". Providence Journal. pp. A1, A20. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Kaplan, Michael (July 31, 2016). "How 8 bumbling thieves stole $30M from a Mafia bank". New York Post. 
  7. ^ Rhea, James N. "Bonded Vault jury frees 3, convicts 3". Providence Journal. pp. A1, A20. 
  8. ^ Milkovits, Amanda (December 4, 2016). "'Crimetown' episode 4 review: Ripping off the mafia". Providence Journal. 

Further reading

  • White, Tim; Worcester, Wayne; Richard, Randall (2016). The Last Good Heist. Globe Pequot Press. ISBN 9781493009596. 

External links

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