Vincent Vespia Jr., whose legendary Hall-of-Fame career in Rhode Island law enforcement spanned almost six decades, died unexpectedly on Tuesday.
The 84-year-old former state police trooper and retired South Kingstown police chief died with his wife and his two daughters at his side at South County Hospital, according to South Kingstown police.
"We really have lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good police chiefs that any of us will share time with in our careers," said a close friend, retired Johnston Police Chief Richard S. Tamburini."He was just one of a kind," he added.
More:Hail to the chief
Vespia grew up on Federal Hill and the East Side of Providence. He served two years in the U.S. Army.
Then, he was accepted into the 1959 class of the Rhode Island State Police.
He started out as a motorcycle trooper and moved on to investigative work in a state that was rife with organized crime. He was known for his impeccable dress.
In the 70s, Vespia and Tamburini, then a Providence police detective sergeant, teamed up to investigate crime boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca.
Patriarca managed one of the richest crime families in the U.S. from a storefront on Federal Hill's Atwells Avenue.
His empire encompassed illegal gambling, loan-sharking, prostitution, truck hijackings, labor racketeering, horse racing and a host of legitimate business fronts.
He routinely ordered murders and beatings to keep order.
Meyer Lansky, Carlo Gambino, Frank Sinatra and John Notte, a governor of Rhode Island, were among his associates, according to coverage in The Providence Journal.
One of Patriarca's vulnerabilities involved other mobsters, including a hitman named Nicholas Palmigiano.
Vespia spent a year cultivating and building trust with Palmigiano who eventually agreed to testify against Patriarca.
On Wednesday, Tamburini, who was greatly saddened by Vespia's death, recalled the arrest in Johnston.
He and Vespia had found the crime boss in his pajamas eating sausages and peppers.
He had a question, Tamburini says, "That rat must be talking again huh?"
Tamburini said Vespia's awareness of his own imperfections was one of his strengths.
In the early 1980s, Trooper Steven Pare was just starting out. Pare's father had graduated from the same 1959 academy as Vespia.
Pare who eventually commanded the Rhode Island State Police got to know Vespia while he served as South Kingstown's chief.
Pare recalls Vespia as "relentless and honest and as strong as you can be as a police officer" and as a "no-nonsense chief" who was comfortable talking with anyone on the force.
"He commanded respect because he gave respect," Pare said.
Passage of a prolific Rhode Island cop, and South Kingstown chief
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Vincent Vespia, titan of Rhode Island police, already missed
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