In August of 1975, eight thieves led by Robert J. Dussault robbed Hudson Fur Storage, a secret mob bank in Providence, Rhode Island, of millions of dollars in stolen cash, gold, jewelry and more.
This robbery, one of the biggest mafia heists in New England’s history, is the premise for WPRI-TV investigative reporter Tim White, Richard Randall and Wayne Worcester’s “The Last Good Heist,” a novel that takes an in-depth look into the story of the infamous Bonded Vault heist, its background and its aftermath.
White and former UConn journalism professor Wayne Worcester came to UConn on Tuesday to discuss with journalism students in Professor Mike Stanton’s Newswriting I class the novel they co-wrote and the research process that it entailed.
White began his speech by talking about his background; he spent his childhood hearing stories about the Bonded Vault heist from his father, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Jack White.
“I grew up the son of a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter,” White said. “He wrote for the Providence Journal; he wrote a story on Richard Nixon underpaying his taxes...I grew up with that as my background, and that made it really cool, frankly.”
When his father passed away 10 years ago, White, a UMass-Amherst communications graduate, was hesitant to take over his father’s position at WPRI-12, despite pressures from the network to do so.
“Why I went into journalism was to know everything about one thing and to, really, hopefully, effect change and dive deep into a story, and this [job offer] was an opportunity to do that...and I’m really happy I did,” White explained.
White inherited his father’s crime beat at WPRI-12 in Providence. He calls Rhode Island “a reporter’s playground.”
Soon after taking the job, White collaborated for about eight years “on and off” with fellow journalists Richard Randall and Worcester to author “The Last Good Heist: The Inside Story of the Biggest Single Payday in The Criminal History of the Northeast,” which was published this August by Globe Pequot Press.
White explained to students the importance of “not living in a bubble,” pushing their comfort zones and being dedicated to gathering information.
White also took the class through the investigative processes he and his co-authors used to uncover information about Dussault and how their determination to unearth evidence was an essential part in creating the novel.
While more than 40 years have passed since the infamous robbery, White says the Bonded Vault story is still an important part of New England’s history.
"Organized crime operated as a secondary government," White said.
White also talked to the students about a report he published in June about an undercover probe that surveilled for months Rhode Island State Representative John Carnevale, who claimed to reside in his Providence district.
After receiving a tip that Carnevale’s secret second residency in Johnston, Rhode Island was “the worst-kept secret in town,” White and his Target 12 team began an investigation.
Months later, after undercover surveillance and digging through public records, White found that Carnevale was in fact residing at an address in Johnston, which lies in District 44, not his own District 13.
The report accused Carnevale of misleading voters by not living in the district he represents or misleading the Rhode Island Ethics Commission by failing to disclose the Johnston residence in his financial statements.
When the scandal broke, Carnevale was defensive. In a video clip, White showed the class his interview with Carnevale. Carnevale said nothing other than, “you have no story here,” despite White repeatedly asking where he lived.
Worcester advised the class full of prospective journalists:
“People’s reluctance [to answer questions] can be defused if you make it clear that you’re simply trying to understand.”
Eventually, Carnevale quit the re-election race.
White’s tenacity, skills and depth of experience have made him a leader in the field of investigative journalism.
“If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” White advised the class, sharing an old journalism maxim.
Olivia Pesce is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.