WARWICK, R.I. — This was a heist made for legends, a Rhode Island fable, the time a crew of thieves robbed a secret bank in Providence used by the New England mafia and stumbled out with millions in loot.
The new film “Vault,” which opens in Rhode Island Friday and in 17 states and on-demand on June 14, features the notorious Bonded Vault robbery of 1975.
“This is Rhode Island, and it’s real,” declared producer Chad A. Verdi, of Verdi Productions in East Greenwich. Indeed, at a private sold-out screening at Showcase Cinemas Thursday, some of the original investigators and a notorious mobster acquitted in the heist mingled in the crowd of 700 people.
The criminals’ haul, estimated at around $32 million at the time, is still considered one of the biggest heists in the nation. Though, it’s hard to know for sure, since nothing — not a single hundred dollar bill, a gold bar, or bauble — has ever been recovered.
The victims were organized crime figures, unlikely to complain to the cops. The robbery was so audacious, that it’s long believed to have been orchestrated by Raymond Patriarca, the mastermind of New England organized crime.
Verdi, of Verdi Productions in East Greenwich, and director Tom DeNucci, who grew up in Cranston, said they first set out to make a film about Patriarca — and then realized the Bonded Vault showed his power.
They filmed most of the movie in Rhode Island, using the “Superman” building in downtown Providence as a multi-faceted set, including its old bank vault.
The actual Bonded Vault was inside Hudson Fur Storage, a nondescript building at 101 Cranston St., where the mobsters’ wives and girlfriends stored their furs — and the wiseguys stored their ill-gotten gains. Sort of the First Bank of La Cosa Nostra, DeNucci said.
“The fact that it was a mafia bank and a secret hideout — that’s what was cool to me,” DeNucci said. “It was hidden behind a fur shop. … And the fact that it’s protected by the most powerful, scariest, most dangerous man in all of New England, Raymond Patriarca. It was untouchable.”
Chazz Palminteri plays Patriarca, with his hooded eyes and glower. Don Johnson portrayed mobster Gerard Ouimette, who sets up the heist.
Theo Rossi, who plays the lead as the main thief Robert “Deuce” Dussault, said the story about the heist seemed like a “bedtime story,” where the take grows in the telling. And the characters in the film seemed familiar, men trying to get one last score.
“I always gravitate toward true stories, because I think we like seeing real life stories … because we try to find a part of ourselves in the character we’re watching — struggle, relationships, life journeys,” Rossi said. “What I thought was, wait a second, these guys aren’t bad guys. They’re just trying to get by. They’re literally blue-collar criminals.”
Clive Standen also stars as Dussault’s best friend and fellow thief Charles “Chucky” Flynn and Samira Wiley as Dussault’s girlfriend Karyne Sponheim.
While the film is based on the true story of the heist, some of the characters and scenes differ from reality. The score is the same — a crew of thieves overwhelmed by a job that turned out to be too good to be true.
One of the investigators who attended Thursday’s screening, retired state police Major Michael Urso, remembered how there was too much for even eight thieves to lug away.
“You couldn’t put an estimate on it,” he said. “There was so much left on the [vault] floor, they couldn’t even fit it in the van.”
Across the crowd, one of the men who Urso tried to put in prison was walking the red carpet.
Former mob enforcer Gerald Tillinghast maintained his innocence — all he knew about the crime was “conjecture and rumor.”
Like he told a police officer after the jury acquitted him, Tillinghast said, “I feel like a million bucks.”