John Ouimette, underworld figure and heist mastermind, dies at the age of 75

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – John Ouimette, a longtime organized crime figure and one of the masterminds behind the largest heist in Rhode Island history, died on Friday.

Ouimette, 75, of Cranston, was surrounded by family members and passed away after a brief illness, according to his nephew Kevin Ouimette Lynch.

“He was truly a wonderful uncle, brother and son,” Lynch said in an email. “If I lived 200 years you will never hear a bad thing about John Ouimette.”

“He helped everyone,” he added.

Ouimette was one of the key figures who planned the infamous 1975 Bonded Vault heist where eight thieves broke into a secret room of safe deposit boxes and made off with millions in cash, jewelry, silver bars, gold coins and other valuables.

Many of the 148 safe deposit boxes, hidden deep inside the Hudson Fur Storage building at 101 Cranston St. in Providence, were used by underworld figures to hide their ill-gotten gains.

Ouimette was convicted of conspiracy and accessory to armed robbery for helping to plan the heist, and he admitted to his role in the theft in 1983 as part of a deal for a reduced sentence. In all Ouimette served 10 years in prison, but the conviction was ultimately overturned by an appeals court in 1991.

John Ouimette garnered less notoriety than his brother Gerard, who was the first New Englander to be sentenced to life in prison under the federal three-strikes law. State and federal investigators have said the brothers ran a lucrative and ruthless faction of the Patriarca crime family, involved in gambling, loansharking, extortion, and theft.

In 1994 John Ouimette pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced to six months in prison for bilking an insurance company by falsely claiming his car had been stolen.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook