Nicole Ouimette always knew her father was different. He was in and out of prison for most of her childhood. He had a lot of money but no job. And then, one night, the FBI showed up.
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MARC SMERLING: Hey Crimetown listeners. Last week, we told you about how a life of crime impacted the families of Charles “the Ghost” Kennedy and Big Al Blamires.
Today, we’re going to bring you a bonus story that we couldn’t fit into that episode. But it’s definitely worth sharing.
Remember Gerard Ouimette? He led a notorious faction of the Patriarca crime family and basically ran the north wing of the Adult Correctional Institutions, where the wiseguys lived. Ouimette had a phone in his prison cell and was the guy who offered a 16-year-old Bobby Walason a glass of Scotch.
BOBBY WALASON: Gerard says, Can I get you a drink? I said, yeah sure. He goes, what do you want? I said, I’ll take anything. I knew what he was talking about, ‘cause, you know, I’m with the boys. And he comes over with Scotch. He goes, here you go.
MARC: And you might also remember that Ouimette was the guy who threatened to kill Charles Kennedy.
CHARLES KENNEDY: He says, You know, all I need is a car to follow us. You pull over to the side of the road, and I blow your fucking brains out. And I get in the other car. He goes, That’s how easy it is for me. This is the type of guy. This is what he was. He never had friends, he killed all his friends.
MARC: In 1979, the FBI wrote, quote, “Although he’s not Italian, Ouimette enjoys the same stature as lieutenants under Raymond L.S. Patriarca.” He was known as “The Frenchman.” He was suspected of ordering numerous mob hits.
And Ouimette? He had a family too.
NICOLE SOUSA: My name is Nicole Sousa. Formerly Nicole Ouimette. Gerard is my father.
MARC: Nicole doesn’t have a lot of early memories of her father…because he was in prison for most of her childhood. When she was six, he was sentenced to five years on a gun charge. Not long after that, he was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder… and sentenced to another ten years.
NICOLE: When I was little, like I have the pictures from visiting him in the visiting room, but I don’t remember being little, being in the visiting room. Sitting on his lap or, I don’t know. It was just, going to see your dad. It wasn’t, you know.
MARC: When did you figure out that wasn’t what most kids were doing?
NICOLE: I think I found out probably in school. I remember being harassed on the bus. Kids teasing me and telling me that dad’s in the mob and my dad’s scary.
MARC: Did your mom have to explain to you why he was away?
NICOLE: Um, no. They sheltered me so much when I was a child. No one ever told me what was going on. No one ever sat me down and said okay, this is you know the deal, and this is why he’s not here.
He wasn’t really nice to my mom. There was always a lot of turmoil.
He did cheat on her and I guess he was not so nice to her physically and emotionally. So the moment that, when he left, I’m assuming right away she filed for divorce. And I remember right around the 6, 7, 8 year old age, that they were divorced and it was over.
MARC: Then, when Nicole was in high school, the Frenchman was granted parole.
NICOLE: I think I was probably about 15 and a half, he was transferred to a halfway house, which he could then leave during the day, so then he started picking me up at home, bringing me to school. We’d go grab a sandwich or do something fun. He would take me shopping. He was trying to kind of get to know me again and be in my life.
And then, I’d remember when I turned 16, he was out fully, and he had an apartment in Fall River, which I then went to live with him.
MARC : How was that time?
NICOLE: Great. I mean, six months is all I really got from my dad pretty much my whole life. So it was good to be with him.
There was the one incident where I was with a boy that had broken my heart probably six months to a year before and we kind of got back together or whatever. And Dad wasn’t too happy about that. So he said alright, bring him down, let me talk to him.
I was like, this is kinda odd, but hey my dad wants to meet you, this is great.
MARC: What did he think about that?
NICOLE: He’s probably shitting his pants, he was probably shaking.
MARC: Nicole and her boyfriend went to meet her father at a bar in Cranston.
NICOLE: So we walk in and my dad pulls him in the back. He had a little conversation with him and then he punched him or slapped him or something, and told him to never talk to me again. And that was the end of him. Never talked to him again.
I did have one girlfriend that at the time, you know, her and I were inseparable. She was like my sister.
I remember one day, he took us shopping and we were in the Swansea Mall and he said, girls, alright, buy whatever you want. We’re like really? And he was like, yeah. Anything you want. And I remember, we were like, alright, that’s great.
MARC: But even then, Ouimette was still a wiseguy.
NICOLE: I remember him looking around and looking behind him and alright, let’s go, whatever you want, hurry up. He kept something about marked money and I’m like, sounds really bad, but I’m just gonna go with it, ‘cause we’re shopping. I don’t even care, so.
I remember we got home, whatever, at the end of that adventure and my girlfriend’s dad flipped out on her. He was like, you’re gonna give everything back. You don’t accept gifts like that. You’re gonna be asked to do something for him in the future, or now he owns you, or you owe him a favor. And he was really, really upset.
MARC: There’s one night that really stands out for Nicole: the night of the father daughter dance at her high school.
NICOLE: I wore a black dress. I think I wore his sister’s fur coat. I remember being in the limo, like red velvet interior. I just remember him being kind of like a cool dad, hanging out with all the other dads and I don’t really think I paid him too much mind that night. I was too worried about being with my friends and like any other normal teenager would do. I mean, I’m sure I got some looks from the teachers and everyone, he was like a celebrity. Everyone wanted to know who he was, and I remember introducing him to my teachers but it was honestly quite normal. It was like, anyone…
MARC: Was he happy? He must have been happy.
NICOLE: Oh yeah, he was smiling ear to ear. I remember the whole night, he was thrilled.
And at the end of the night, he said alright, he dropped me off at the apartment and he said, I’ll be right back. I’ll be back in a little bit. And I begged him, not to go. And he took off in the limo. That’s the night that he got himself in trouble.
MARC: Then, a few days later…
NICOLE: My friend and I, we were together and she slept over, at my dad’s house, at the apartment. And I think all I remember from that night is them barging in. It really sounded like the end of the world.
MARC: Who’s them?
NICOLE: The FBI. There was probably maybe 15 of them. It was kind of out of a movie. They knocked the door down and just, as soon as you walked in, there were stairs, they just started rushing upstairs, screaming, and we woke up and had no idea what was going on. And within seconds, they had my dad in handcuffs and they had my friend and I against the wall with guns to our heads. They just took him out pretty quickly and held my friend and I there for hours. It felt like eternity but it was probably a couple of hours while they just ransacked the entire house looking for anything they could find.
I couldn’t even tell you the amount of money that came out of that house and I was fighting with them, like that’s my money. And they’re like, no it’s not, and I’m like, that’s my money.
And they just, they just finally left after hours and didn’t even, like I think about it now. I was probably, what, 17, I wasn’t even 18 then. Didn’t even have parents come get us, just left and I was just so upset.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: Reputed mob enforcer Gerard Ouimette got out of federal prison just months ago. Today he stands accused of picking up where he left off before going to jail and that is doing the Mafia’s dirty work.
ARCHIVAL SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: A couple of Rhode Islanders were told that they would need to pay money and if they didn’t they would be hurt and hurt fairly severely.
MARC: Ouimette was convicted of extortion. And he was sentenced to a life behind bars under the newly passed federal three-strikes law.
NICOLE: He called me every day. I barely squeaked by, finishing high school. I know the teachers did take some pity for me because of all the things that were happening in my life. And they were all well aware of it. He was in the paper constantly and on the news. I didn’t want to go to college right away. So my dad…So my dad, you know, he was always trying to fix everyone else’s life. He wanted to make sure everyone did the right thing. So he said, if you’re not gonna go to college, then you’re gonna start working at a dealership. A friend of mine has a dealership. You can go work over there until you figure out what you want to do. So I went to work because my dad said so, that’s where I went to work. And that’s where I ended up meeting my husband. He was a few years older than me. So then we started dating and within three months, I was pregnant. So I thought I was gonna get the angry response from my dad, and he was gonna scream at me and I was gonna be in trouble, and he said, well good for you, honey. At least you can get your family over with when you’re young and you’ll have energy, not the response I thought I was going to get. But he was totally okay with it.
MARC: The day we sat down with Nicole, her teenage son, Nick, was with her.
NICK SOUSA: I’m Nick Sousa, Nicole’s my mom, and Gerard’s my grandfather.
ZAC STUART-PONTIER: Can you describe that picture?
NICK: Um, I don’t know. They all look pretty happy. I was definitely happy when I went up there.
MARC: We looked through photos of Nick and his grandfather taken in prison.
ZAC: He’s making a muscle.
NICK: Yeah, he’s flexing his arm, he’s smiling, laughing. I remember I felt it, it was like a rock. I was amazed. I remember this. I remember went back to school and I told everyone about it.
MARC: Was that the only time you went to go visit him? Or did you go a couple times?
NICK: We went a couple times. But this was really the last time I went, right?
NICOLE: Yeah, that’s the last time we all went.
NICK: I think I was what, 13 or 14?
MARC: He must have been thrilled to see you.
MARC: When did you figure out that your grandfather was a notorious Providence civilian?
NICK: Eighth grade. That’s when I read the book.
MARC: The book. In 2010, while in prison, Gerard Ouimette self-published a memoir, titled “What Price Providence?”
NICOLE: The only way I found out about how his life really went down was from his book. I would have never imagined that he would have taken people’s’ lives. Who would I have ever thought? Not my father. Maybe making money illegally, that’s what I thought he was doing because obviously he didn’t have a job and he had boatloads of money, I mean that’s the only thing I thought was wrong. I guess not everyone punches your boyfriend in the face like it’s not really normal. But I didn’t really think that he was out slaying people for a living. Not in a million years. It’s not at all how I would want my father to be or how I’d ever want my kids to behave or how I would ever behave myself. Yeah, I felt really disgusted.
Everyone has to fend for themselves like a normal family and that’s all I’ve been trying to do. I want to be normal. I don’t want a handout, I don’t want nothing. I want my kids to be removed from it and I always tell them, it’s not the way to live.
I never like, sheltered them from it, but I always told them, this is how it is, and this is why it’s bad and it kinda tried to make it a lesson an example and I had said, he had made bad choices and that’s why he was where he was. It was all because of the bad choices that he had made in life.
MARC: Gerard Ouimette, aka the Frenchman, spent a total of 46 years behind bars.
NICOLE: I always had the feelings that he would come home. He would tell me he was coming home and I think it kept me going as well as kept him going that someday, he’d be home, and be an old man, and I could take care of him, and we’d kind of fix everything that happened in the past. But unfortunately, that didn’t work out.
That last conversation I had with him, he said that his heart and lungs were weak and failing, so, maybe if he would have gotten treatment, it would have helped him. But he had told me that he ripped out the IV, got off the gurney and said he didn’t want this in him. He was fine, he was going back to his room. And he said, a big black nurse lady said to him, honey, you know you’re dying right? You’re not well.
If I would have known that was going to be my last conversation with him I probably would have said more.
We hung up and days went by and I should have got in my car and driven down there or gotten on the next flight. And done what I could. It’s, you know, it’s a shame. He was all by himself, I couldn’t even imagine just being there alone, nobody by your side, no one caring for you. He was probably in so much pain the last few days that he was begging to die.
My dad, he’s got like a grip on me because he was so powerful as a human that his spirit has to be a hundred times more powerful. And there’s things that happen I think sometimes, maybe it has to do with him giving me little warning signs and deterring me from different things. And I’m like, you think? Maybe.
MARC: Next time on Crimetown, it’s another game of cat and mouse. But this time the cat is the FBI. And the mouse is….well, the mouse is the mayor.