CHAPTER EIGHT: CAT AND MOUSE
BRIAN ANDREWS: In terms of organized crime in New England, the 70's and 80's were absolutely wild. Wild!
ZAC STUART-PONTIER: This is Brian Andrews. He’s a Vietnam veteran. He did a couple tours as a tunnel rat, defusing booby traps. It took patience and precision not to get blown to pieces. And after Vietnam, Brian joined the Rhode Island State police.
BRIAN: I was a uniformed trooper and a temporary vacancy has been created in the state police intelligence unit to work on a series of wiretaps, all in connection with the same crew of criminals.
ZAC: This crew of criminals was lead by a master thief, and Brian’s new job was to take him down.
BRIAN: You start to read about some scores that are happening, where there's millions of dollars in precious metals stolen? Gotta be him.
Anthony W. Fiore Jr, January 13th, 1943.
I can tell you he drove a Cadillac with a Rhode Island plate of F674. I almost shaped my whole career on Tony Fiore to be honest with you.
TONY FIORE: He was assigned to me his whole career. He was just a rookie patrolman. They promoted him from patrolman to detective to everything, all the way up to the head of the state police. I made his whole career.
BRIAN: Tony only did big scores. And if you got Tony, you got some other real bad guys, hijackers, armed robbers, I mean everybody. So if you could just stay on Tony for a little bit without getting made, he would take us to the promised land.
MARC SMERLING: For Detective Brian Andrews, getting to that promised land would become an obsession.
ZAC: Today’s episode – gold heists, wiretaps, and the epic cat and mouse game of Detective Brian Andrews and Master Thief Tony Fiore. I’m Zac Stuart-Pontier.
MARC: And I’m Marc Smerling.
ZAC: Welcome to Crimetown.
ZAC: Tony and his crew were well connected to mob boss Raymond Patriarca.
TONY: Raymond kept it pretty well in control. He was a fair guy, everybody loved him but he ran a real tight ring. I mean he wasn’t flashy, he didn’t drive around like some of these bosses. He had an old ‘61 or ‘62 Cadillac, that’s what he drove every day. He coulda had limousines, he coulda had anything he wanted in the world. But, you know, he was just a regular guy.
MARC: Well, not too regular.
ZAC: Here’s how Tony’s relationship with Patriarca worked: Tony would rob a place and then he’d kick up a portion of the take to the boss. Remember the mob organizational chart? Tony’s on that chart with a few numbers next to his name, including seven, for robbery. That was Tony’s specialty – big heists.
One of Tony's most spectacular jobs came in 1973, when he knocked off a precious metals refinery called Pease and Curren.
Brian Andrews and Tony explain how that heist was pulled off. Step by step.
TONY: So I went down to Pease and Curren and I applied for a job. They hired me.
BRIAN: That’s what he would do, he would get the job there and he would surveil the whole place. He'd look at the plant, he'd look at the facility, he'd look at where it was located physically, any woods around it where they could hide in the woods and come out of the woods.
TONY: It was perfect because it was all woods. We’ll do it Memorial Day weekend, give us that extra day.
BRIAN: A lot of their scores were planned over a holiday weekend to give them that extra day. And then he would put together this crew. They all had an expertise. One guy was the bug man, he could bypass the burglar alarm system.
ZAC: The bug man on Pease and Curren was a guy named Bucky Barrett.
TONY: I said to Bucky, "Bucky," I says, "We could make a big score here." If you want to bypass the alarm, they got millions of dollars in there in gold."
BRIAN: Another guy, he was the safe man. He could peel open a safe, he could burn a safe, he could chisel a safe. The guy was good at safes.
ZAC: And for this heist, Tony would need a good safe guy. Because Pease and Curren had a massive, stainless steel vault.
TONY: You can't cut the stainless steel vault with a torch. And it had copper in between it so as you would cut, the copper would melt and seal it right back together.
ZAC: But Tony’s safe guy had the right tool for the job – an extremely powerful piece of technology called the burning bar.
TONY: A burning bar, they’re made out of magnesium. You could go across that vault like you were cutting butter.
ZAC: The weekend of the heist arrived. There was an alarm guy, there was a safe guy, and there were a few lookouts -- to watch for cops.
TONY: Now, we got guys down the end of the road, one end, guys down the other end, they’re on walkies. Because the cops might drive around the street, they check the buildings two to three times a night.
ZAC: After Bucky Barrett disabled the alarm, Tony and his crew made their move.
TONY: We went in the yard, went around the back, cut a hole in the fence, cause it was all fenced in.
ZAC: Pease and Curren, a giant 40,000-square foot industrial refinery, sat squat and grey in front of the thieves. They climbed on top of the building. Using a construction saw, they cut a hole in the roof and dropped down inside. They opened the doors to the loading dock, and brought in their equipment.
Now, it was the safe guy’s turn. He fired up the burning bar and started cutting into the vault. But here’s the thing about burning bars:
TONY: They smoke so bad. I mean the flame might be four, five feet, the flame comes out the end of the bar. The place is loaded with smoke. So what we had to do is we had to open all the doors in the building and windows, cause of the fire alarms and everything. So it’s about two o’clock in the morning, I’m standing on the back deck.
ZAC: Tony stood on the back deck as smoke billowed from the building.
TONY: The doors are wide open, the windows are wide open. All of a sudden I hear a car coming, I look, it’s a cop’s car. The guy down the end of the road fell asleep. So we shut the doors, everything, everything. And took off. We went hid in the woods.
ZAC: Tony and his crew crouched in the woods. They watched as the cop car got closer and closer. But then...it drove right by. When the coast was clear, the thieves headed back inside. The safe guy picked up the burning bar and finished the job.
TONY: He cut it right in half, opened the vault. There was gold bars, they were thousand-ounce bars, they weighed seventy-five pounds apiece. And there was two fifty-gallon drums full with silver dollars. So we backed the van right in the building. We had so much gold inside the truck that the tires were almost flat.
ZAC: Pease and Curren was a huge score — more than a million dollars by today’s standards. And, according to Brian Andrews, Tony got off scot-free.
BRIAN: Pease and Curren was handled by the local police department, and they had not a clue who did that. And Tony really hadn't attracted an awful lot of attention doing that stuff back then.
MARC: But you knew who it was. You had a good idea.
BRIAN: Yeah. I mean there was only one crew that was capable of pulling off these major jobs, and that was Tony Fiore and his guys.
ZAC: Brian figured that it would be up to the state police intelligence unit to bring down Tony Fiore and his crew. So Brian threw himself into the case. He started simple. Surveillance 101: Tailing Tony. The only problem?
BRIAN: Tony was difficult to follow. He knew me and he was always tail-conscious. Tony would purposely go into a neighborhood that he knew well, and he'd go down a dead-end street, knowing it was a dead-end street.
TONY: I took Brian, I mean, he’ll tell you, I took him down dead-end streets. Ya know, he’d follow me down a dead-end street like where am I going and then I'd stop and I'd just look at him and shake my head.
BRIAN: He just wanted to see who pulled down the dead end street with him. And all of a sudden if he pulls down the dead end street, and three of us pull down, caught again.
TONY: He said he was never so embarrassed in his life.
BRIAN: Embarrassing. Frustrating. Now you gotta worry about, did I just kill his plan, because now he knows the state police are watching him. Is he not gonna go through with what he's been looking at? Did I just ruin the whole thing by getting made? Pretty frustrating. Aggravating.
ZAC: Tailing Tony wasn’t working, so Brian decided to try something else. Tapping Tony’s phone. The challenge: Doing it undetected.
BRIAN: We went out and we bought a truck. And we had it painted that looked like a New England Telephone Company truck. It had the same colors, all the markings, it was identical. Our guys had the pole climbers, we had the New England Telephone Company hat, the belt, and we’d climb the pole just like a regular telephone company guy would and we’d make the connection.
ZAC: By 1975, Brian was listening in on Tony’s phone calls, and he began to piece together the key members of Tony’s crew.
BRIAN: Charlie was just coming into the picture. Charlie was like, he was on an internship back then.
ZAC: Brian’s talking about Charles Kennedy. Back then, he was just a novice thief.
TONY: Charlie was only a baby. What was you, about 18? Yeah. Charlie was only a baby.
CHARLES KENNEDY: I was just a junior member.
ZAC: And Charles was an eager student. In awe of Tony and his crew.
CHARLES: What an incredible group of people. Burglars, all specialists. They were like fanatical, like the Waffen SS. These guys were fanatics. Everybody had their job. Everyone was a specialist. Me, mine was the locks.
ZAC: Charles would watch the older guys in action, fascinated by their teamwork and precision. When he talks about breaking into a building, he’s almost poetic.
CHARLES: When you attack a building. That building is alive. Your senses are so overloaded, it’s like a heart attack. You’re on death. And then that building, it starts to diminish a little bit. It’s fighting you. You got through the barrier, ok, I still got something more for you. You still gotta go through my security system. I’m weakening you. You’re done. Well, I still got a vault. That’s my heart, you’ll never get to it. You defeat it. That building dies just in front of you. And what’s left is the lifeblood of all that money. And you got it. And you want more.
ZAC: Charles was a quick study, especially when it came to electronic surveillance. If Tony was tail-conscious… Charles was wiretap conscious. He worried that Tony’s phone might be bugged. All Charles needed was an opportunity to prove it.
And he got that opportunity when Tony was suspected in another big heist. One that he didn’t do. The robbery of something very precious to the city of Providence.
TONY: It was all the silverware from Paul Revere and everything.
ZAC: And the Providence Police wanted that silverware back.
TONY: So now, they went to Raymond and they told him, "Raymond, we want that silverware back. That's an historic part of Rhode Island." So they says, "We believe Fiore's the one that robbed it."
ZAC: Tony is saying that the police went to Raymond Patriarca, for help in recovering stolen goods. So Patriarca summoned Tony in for a chat.
TONY: They call me in, you know, there's a lot of heat, they want that silverware back. If he calls you in, and says, “Did you do this?” You’re not gonna lie to him because it wouldn’t have been very good for you. I said, “But I didn't take it. I didn't do it.”
ZAC: Patriarca believed Tony. But the fact that the cops were so desperate to find that silverware gave Tony and Charles the opportunity they were looking for.
TONY: So I says, ya know, wonder if my phone was bugged. So I says to Charlie, I call him, I said, "Charlie, I got some silverware that's gotta go to..."
CHARLES: Geez, I wonder who suggested that idea. It was me. Your phone is bugged, I'm going to call you in the morning and say, "I'm gonna bring silver to New York."
ZAC: They set a trap for the cops to find out if Tony’s phone was tapped.
TONY: We called on the phone and we're having this conversation, that he’s gonna take my car with the silverware to New York.
CHARLES: Bang! I get in his car, 95, feds, state police, automatic weapons.
ZAC: Tony called the cops and told them the whole thing was made up.
TONY: I said, “Listen, ya just arrested Charlie Kennedy," I said, "There's no silver in there." I said, "We're just seeing if the phones were bugged and everything," I said, "so you can let him go--" [laughs] He went off, I mean he was screaming and yelling on the phone, "We'll kill you, we'll blow you away, we'll…” -- this and that. “Alright.” I hung up, ya know, and I said, "At least we've found out that they're bugged anyway, ya know."
ZAC: And this is how it went for years. Brian chasing Tony and Tony outwitting him at every turn. And even when did they manage to arrest Tony for something, he'd just beat it in court.
TONY: I was found not guilty five trials in a row. They couldn’t convict me. I always caught a break with the young girls on the juries. You know, and I’d be there in my suit, you know, just looking at them and my blue eyes looking at them, and they’d say, “We know he didn’t do it,” you know.
ZAC: One time, Tony went to trial on a robbery charge. And this story…it really sums up Providence.
TONY: They take me to court and they’re picking the jury. So I’m sitting there looking at the jury pool there and they’re asking ‘em all questions. They come to juror, they pick. It’s my sister.
ZAC: That’s right. Tony’s sister was in the jury pool.
TONY: Her name was her married name, so they says, “Do you have any…” the questions they ask about being on a jury. “No, no, no.” They never said to her, “Do you know him? Are you related?” She never said nothing. So they never said nothing. They pick her. She’s on the jury.
ZAC: Things were looking good for Tony. But there was one juror who he hadn’t quite charmed.
TONY: So this old lady’s sitting there and she’s raising her hands. “Your Honor, your Honor, I got something to tell you.” He says “Yes, stand up.” So she says, “That’s her brother. She said that’s her brother and she said he’s not guilty.” So the judge looks at me and he says to me, “Mr. Fiore, stand up.” I stand up and he says to me, “Juror number two - is that your sister?” I’m looking and I go, like, “Oh yeah, yeah that’s her!”
ZAC: Tony eventually beat that charge. And soon, he was back on the street again, pulling off heists. Brian had to do something. Something never done before in the history of Rhode Island.
MARC: How you gonna get those recording devices into Tony's house?
BRIAN: We're gonna break in.
ZAC: The cops break in...after the break.
ZAC: Welcome back. Before the break, Brian Andrews and the state police threw everything they had at catching master thief Tony Fiore. They tried tailing him, they tried tapping his phone. And even when they caught him and he went to trial, he always managed to slip away.
Now, it was time to do something drastic. And Brian had an idea: electronic eavesdropping. This isn’t just a tap on a phone line. This would mean breaking into Tony’s house, and planting hidden microphones.
BRIAN: You have to imagine the amount of probable cause that’s involved to allow you to break into somebody’s residence and install microphones in a house where Tony was living with his wife and his daughter. This was one of the biggest invasions of privacy that there could ever be!
ZAC: This was a new tactic being developed to fight organized crime. And it had never been used in Rhode Island before. We have the affidavit that Brian and the FBI submitted to a federal judge. It’s 49 pages long, and it details the years of surveillance Brian did on Tony and his crew. And it’s signed by the U.S. Attorney General.
Next, Brian needed to establish a command post near Tony’s house. Close enough that he could keep an eye on Tony.
BRIAN: We found a place at 10 King Street. Look at that, look at the bedroom window on that house, second floor King St, it looks right onto the front of Fiore's house. So we took a chance, and we approached the owners, they were an elderly couple. They had a little French poodle dog. We told them we wanted to rent the second floor. They said, “Oh no, you can't rent it up there, it's not finished, there's no heat, there's no water, no furniture, nothing.” "Well, we'll take it!" So we took it!
ZAC: Then, Brian needed to find a way to get into Tony’s house.
BRIAN: We followed him to Superior Court in Providence. He had a criminal matter on the calendar. And he parked his car across the street from the courthouse. We watched him. He went into the courtroom and he was tied up. While we went to the parking attendant’s shack, and we took his keys off the hook, which had his house keys. We made a copy, ran the keys back, put them on the hook, Tony finished in court that day, we had the keys to the house.
ZAC: After that, the police needed to pick a day. Tony was often out of the house. But his wife was a different story.
BRIAN: Tony's wife Gail was taking a course at URI, University of Rhode Island extension college in Providence. And she would have been the first one back. So we had to go to URI, to where she went to school, and just in case she get out early, we had flattened the tire on her car, so when she got out, she couldn't get in the car. That was all permissible, that was all part of the surreptitious entry.
The FBI provides the break-in team. And these guys come out of Washington, D.C. They have a team of guys who were trained in bypassing burglar alarm systems, and gaining entry.
ZAC: So the feds broke into Tony’s house and planted the microphones.
BRIAN: The microphones were installed, they were RF mics, radio frequency mics. So they would take these conversations that were happening in these different rooms in the house, and they would transmit them on a radio frequency right across the street into our second floor command post.
ZAC: And from that second floor command post, it seemed to Brian like they had finally reached the promised land.
But once again, Brian had underestimated Tony. One day, Tony needed to meet with Charles Kennedy.
TONY: He was the most paranoid guy in the world, he wouldn't come to my house in the daytime. He said, “I'll be there at 2 o'clock in the morning.” He says, “I'll meet you on the next street over.” So I says, “Alright.” So I gotta go jump my fence and go the next street over and everything.
So he's meeting me on the next street, so I come out of the house at 2 o'clock and I go to the next street and I look, I see this brown Dodge. And I says to him, “Charlie, wait a minute.” I said, “Don't move.” I walk over, I said, "That's the state police car.” I said, "What are they doing over here?"
ZAC: The Dodge was in front of…a house. With a second-floor window that looked directly at Tony’s front door.
TONY: I says, "There's something wrong here, Charlie.” Now he’s taking off, he’s gone. You know, so now I sit out there, I'm waiting.
ZAC: So, Tony started a stakeout of his own. Spying on the house that was spying on him.
TONY: You know, I'm out there all night and I see them come out of the house. They get into the car and they leave. But then now there’s more coming in. And they were up in the attic and they could see my house right across the street.
ZAC: Tony had all sorts of criminal paraphernalia in his garage: tools for disabling alarms and breaking and entering. And now, he did something he almost never did. Something that would prove to be a fatal mistake. He panicked. He let his guard down. And he called Bucky Barrett, the bug man.
TONY: I said, “Bucky,” I said, “listen.” I says, “The state police are across the street from my house.” He said, "Ya gotta get everything out of the house, get all that equipment out of the house, get everything.” So I says, “Alright.” But now, the house is bugged. So they hear all this. So they raid the house.
So you know, they told me, they says, “Come on, Tony, you’re coming with us.” I said, “Where are we going?” They said, “You know where we’re going.” You know.
ZAC: Brian had waited a long time for Tony to slip up. And he finally did.
BRIAN: I was pretty excited, I was fascinated by this whole thing. Knowing where we had come from with this case -- listening to these coded conversations, surveillances without being made, and we were able to pull the whole thing off. It was a great arrest.
ZAC: Arresting Tony helped make Brian’s career. He got promoted to captain.
Tony was charged with conspiracy to commit burglary. And this time there were no pretty girls on the jury, and no family members. Tony was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
BRIAN: Everybody went away, so to speak. Tony was in jail, and Bucky Barrett was out of the picture. So we began to take a look at Charlie. Basically nobody knew too much about him. He learned all of his lessons from the Fiore days, he was impossible to watch, there was no place to sit and watch the guy.
ZAC: Charles Kennedy. He was no longer a junior member of the crew. Now, he was starting to come into his own.
CHARLES: I observed everything. And I studied. And whatever I got involved in, I could tell you details about traffic lights. Every police frequency, I had captured. I did not want to get caught, I did not want to go to jail.
ZAC: Charles had grown up to be a very smart crook and was on his way to establishing his own empire -- a new enterprise that would transform organized crime and make him one of the most sought after criminals in all of New England.
His dealings would earn him a nickname, one he heard about from an associate.
CHARLES: “You know,” he says. “Providence has got a code name for you. I go “What?” He goes, “Yeah. When they talk about you, they call you The Ghost.” I go, “What?” He goes, “Yeah. Cause they can’t catch you.”
MARC: Next time on Crimetown – after a senseless murder, our old friend Bobby Walason decides he wants out of the mob. But getting out is a lot harder than getting in.
BOBBY WALASON: I saw myself ending up a zero. It was like, what the fuck kind of guys are these?
ZAC: Crimetown is me, Zac Stuart-Pontier, and Marc Smerling.
We are produced by Drew Nelles, Austin Mitchell and Mike Plunkett. With additional production by Laura Sim.
We’re edited by Alex Blumberg and Caitlin Kenney. Additional editing by Kaitlin Roberts.
Fact-checking by Mick Rouse.
This episode of Crimetown was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Matthew Boll.
Additional sound design by Ted Robinson at Silver Sound.
Our title track is “Run To Your Mama” by Goat.
Original music by John Kusiak, Jon Ivans, Edwin and Bienart.
Our ad music is by Matthew Boll.
Additional mixing by Martin Peralta and Enoch Kim.
Our digital editor is Kate Parkinson-Morgan. Our design director is Ale Lariu.
Alex Blumberg is The Podfather. He could have limousines, he could have anything he wanted in the world. But he’s just a regular guy.
MARC: Well, not too regular.
ZAC: This season of Crimetown is dedicated to the memory of Zachary Malinowski. We miss you, Bill.
Thanks to the Providence Journal, Julia Heymans, Emily Wiedemann, Lisa Newby, Mary Murphy, and everyone who shared their stories with us.
For a full list of credits, and for bonus content from this episode, visit our website at crimetownshow.com.
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Providence is a special place, and we're honored to tell a part of its story.