By Allan May
Boston’s Italian underworld has never approached the organizational level of its contemporaries in other cities in the United States. When it did have its heyday it was actually ruled from Providence, Rhode Island and became known as the New England Crime Family. By the time the leadership switched back to Boston, the underworld members there not only rejected their new mob boss, but also showed their ineptness while trying to expunge him.
Raymond Salvatore Loreda Patriarca ran the New England Crime Family with an iron fist for nearly thirty years. From 1954 to 1984, operating out of the Federal Hill section of Providence, Rhode Island, Patriarca became one of the most respected Mafia bosses in the United States. His death in July 1984 would cause turmoil to a family that had once run like a well-oiled machine and bring it to its knees.
When Patriarca died, Jerry Angiulo, the underboss, was under indictment for racketeering with three of his brothers. Angiulo, who hoped to succeed to the top spot, was not respected within the family. When Larry Zannino, a top lieutenant, threw his support behind Patriarca’s son, Raymond J. “Junior” Patriarca, Angiulo found himself demoted to a mere soldier. Francesco “Paul” Intiso took over the underboss position after Angiulo was reduced in rank. His reign was short-lived as he passed away in 1985. In February 1986, Angiulo was convicted of the racketeering charges and sentenced to forty-five years in prison completely severing him from the picture.
“Junior” Patriarca proved to be an ineffective leader. Zannino, who had been promoted to consigliere, was under federal investigation himself. In 1987 he was sentenced to thirty years. He would die there in March 1996.
After Intiso died, the underboss role was then filled by William P. “The Wild Man” Grasso. The fifty-eight year old Grasso of New Haven, Connecticut was said to have had a close working relationship with the New York crime families. Law enforcement agencies considered him to be the real power in New England. On June 16, 1989, Grasso was found along the banks of the Connecticut River with a bullet in the back of his head. Five hours after Grasso’s body was found, Frances P. “Cadillac Frank” Salemme was shot and seriously wounded after arriving at a Saugus, Massachusetts pancake house. A rising star in the Boston faction of the New England Crime Family, Patriarca was planning on appointing Salemme to oversee the Beantown operations.
Police initially called the murder of Grasso and the wounding of Salemme on the same day a coincidence. Organized crime experts acknowledged that the New York families were “less than impressed” with “Junior” Patriarca’s leadership. However, they also believed that the Grasso murder was sanctioned by New York after “The Wild Man” had angered the Genovese Crime Family by trying to muscle in on rackets they controlled in Springfield, Massachusetts, which is located in the south-central part of the state near the Connecticut border.
While the murder of Grasso was considered a carefully planned mob hit, the opinion was not the same on the attempt to kill Salemme. One investigator said, “The general consensus is that it wasn’t the North End (Boston) crowd. The hit on Frankie was too sloppy, and it endangered too many innocent lives to be LCN La Cosa Nostra.” Salemme had driven to the International House of Pancakes restaurant in a black BMW with a brief case packed with $12,000. As Salemme got out of the car he was wounded in the chest and leg by gunmen blasting away from a car that pulled up from behind. Salemme was said to have entered the lobby of the restaurant and then run out to keep innocent people from getting hit. In doing so he was wounded again. He was taken to the AtlantiCare Medical Hospital in Lynn, where he was protected by Massachusetts State Police officers while he recovered.
What authorities did not realize was that the murder of Grasso and the shooting of Salemme was an orchestrated attack by members of what would come to be known as the “renegade faction” of the Boston underworld. The leadership of this Boston group consisted of new family consigliere Joseph “J. R.” Russo, his stepbrother Robert F. “Bobby Russo” Carrozza, and Vincent “Vinnie the Animal” Ferrara, both capos. Russo had gained respect in the New England mob by killing government informant, and former feared hitman, Joseph Barboza in San Francisco in 1976. By seizing the leadership of the New England family the group sought to control gambling and the extortion of bookmakers, drug dealers and restaurant owners in the area. The war that resulted from this takeover attempt lasted until 1994 and claimed more than a dozen lives.
Patriarca realized that the actions of the Boston members were about to split the family in two, causing an internecine war. He tried to appease the men by making four new members from the Boston area. The initiation rite held on October 29, 1989, turned out to be a disaster for La Cosa Nostra nationwide, and for the New England family specifically, when it was soon revealed that the FBI had secretly recorded the ceremony.
Around this time Nicholas L. Bianco reputedly replaced “Junior” Patriarca as boss of the family. Authorities found out in May 1991, that Patriarca was forced out. John F. “Sonny” Castagna, a family-member-turned-government-informant, revealed that a weeping Patriarca was warned during a late 1989 meeting in Boston that he would be killed if he didn’t step down. Presiding over that meeting was Joseph Russo with Carrozza also in attendance.
One of the criticisms of Patriarca by family members was that it was his ineptitude that led to the FBI’s bugging of the now infamous induction ceremony. It was later revealed that family member Angelo Mercurio, Patriarca’s driver, was an FBI informant. This helped vindicate Patriarca to some degree, as defense lawyers would call for new trials in the wake of this revelation claiming government agents lied to the judge in order to bug the premises. Federal laws specify that electronic surveillance is only available when there is no other means to obtain information. Since Mercurio was an informant, they had their other means.
In 1990, Patriarca, Bianco, Russo, Carrozza and Ferrara were among twenty family members indicted on RICO charges. Two trials would take place, one in Hartford, the other in Boston. In the Hartford trial, Bianco and seven others were found guilty. Bianco was sentenced to eleven years in prison and died there in November 1994.
Before the Boston trial got underway, Patriarca disassociated himself from the other defendants in December 1991 by pleading guilty to racketeering charges and receiving an eight-year sentence. After the trial got underway in late January 1992, the other defendants decided to plead guilty. Part of the plea agreement was that Russo, Carrozza and Ferrara would not be prosecuted for the killing of Grasso or the attack on Salemme. Russo was sentenced to sixteen years and died in prison in June 1998. Carrozza was sentenced to nineteen years.
With the boss, ex-boss, and consigliere all in prison, “Cadillac Frank” Salemme was now the most powerful member of the New England family. For the first time since 1954 the power base of the New England Mafia moved from Providence back to Boston.
Salemme had spent fifteen years in prison for planting a bomb in the car of attorney John E. Fitzgerald on January 30, 1968. Fitzgerald had been representing mob hitman Joseph Barboza. The blast, intended to scare Barboza, who was about to become a government witness, ripped off one of Fitzgerald’s legs. While in prison, Salemme helped rescue a guard who was shot by an inmate and received a commendation from then Governor Michael Dukakis. Salemme also received recognition for helping to quell several prison disturbances. Once released, he came to the forefront of the New England mob with the help of long-time friend Steve “The Rifleman” Flemmi, a leader in Boston’s Winterhill Gang.
As the new boss of the New England mob, Salemme moved quickly to settle problems and disputes. It is not known for sure if the six killings that took place during 1991 and 1992 were related to the attempt on Salemme’s life or if they were just “regular business” murders. They began when Howard J. Ferrini, a professional gambler, was beaten to death on August 16, 1991 in his Berkley home and tossed in the trunk of his 1988 Cadillac. Five days later, the car was found at Logan Airport dripping blood and emitting a foul odor.
In September 1991, Robert A. Donati was also found in the trunk of his Cadillac. Believed to be tied to the “renegade faction,” Donati was beaten to a pulp and had his throat slashed. Years later it would be revealed that Donato was an informant for the state police. The following month on October 3, Barry Lazzarini, a former restaurant owner, was found tied up and brutally beaten to death in his home in Manomet.
The killings subsided for almost a year until Kevin Hanrahan was shot to death in Providence, Rhode Island in September 1992. The following month, Rocco Scali, owner of a North End restaurant, was shot and killed as he sat in his vehicle in the parking lot of a pancake house in Dedham. Vincent A. Arcieri, another restaurant owner, was murdered in December 1992 in the driveway of his Orient Heights home. In addition to these murders, South Boston nightclub operator Steven DiSarro disappeared and was presumed dead.
After Carrozza’s sentencing in late April 1992, it took nearly two years for the “renegade faction” to strike back. While serving his time in a federal prison in Pennsylvania, Carrozza was visited several times by Anthony Ciampi and Michael P. Romano, Sr. According to the FBI, the two men wanted Carrozza’s permission to carry on the war against Salemme and his supporters. Assistant U. S. Attorney Jeffrey Auerhahn claimed, “Robert Carrozza supplied legitimacy. You can’t take on a mafia member unless you have one with you.” Using Ciampi’s social club on Bennington Street as the group’s headquarters, the “renegade faction” retaliated.
On March 31, 1994, in two unrelated attacks, three Salemme associates were killed and another wounded. On Bennington Street in East Boston, police were called out around 9:30 p.m. to investigate a shooting. When they arrived they found Richard Devlin slumped down behind the wheel of a 1994 Buick Skylark. The car was parked in front of a restaurant formerly owned by Biagio DiGiacomo, who went to prison during the RICO trials in 1991. Devlin, wearing a bullet proof vest, had been shot in the head and was in critical condition. After a few days on life support he died at Massachusetts General Hospital.
While police were attending to Devlin, Richard Gillis approached them and stated that he too had been shot. Wounded in the mouth, left shoulder, and grazed slightly on the head, Gillis foolishly told police he had not been in the car with Devlin. Gillis could not explain why several of his teeth, which had been shot out by the gunman, were found in the vehicle.
Devlin, an enforcer for Salemme, had a violent history. In 1971, he was convicted of manslaughter. The victim’s corpse was found floating in Dorchester Bay, minus its head, hands, and right leg. The hatchet used to perform the butchery was left buried in the man’s chest. Devlin was sentenced to Walpole Prison. While there he was considered a prime suspect in the November 1973 stabbing death of Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler.” Two trials in the DeSalvo murder ended in hung juries; the case was never solved.
One law enforcement official, who described Devlin and Gillis as Salemme’s “muscle in Boston,” claimed Devlin was a suspect in the murder of Rocco Scali in October 1992. Gillis, who had once survived being shot six times at close range in Copp’s Hill Cemetery in 1980, was a suspect in the murder of Vincent A. Arcieri.
The same night Devlin and Gillis were shot, two Salemme associates in Cranston, Rhode Island were killed. Antonino “Nino” Cucinotta gunned down Ronald Coppola and Peter Scarpellini as they played cards inside a social club. Police arrested Cucinotta, who confessed to the murders claiming the two men had, “failed to defend his honor when another man insulted him.” Both of the victims worked for Salemme’s Rhode Island lieutenant Robert “Bobby” DeLuca.
Police theorized that while the killings were not directly related, they proved that there was a rift in the family and that many “old guard loyalists, who view him (Salemme) as an upstart boss who demands more tribute from his underlings than his predecessors and offers no protection in return.”
In a tragic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Michael P. Romano, Jr. was killed on September 2, 1994. The twenty-year-old Romano had been an outstanding hockey player at Wakefield High School. Married to a schoolteacher, Romano had a young daughter and another child on the way. Believed to be in some financial straits, Romano got involved with Enrico M. “Rico” Ponzo, a mob wanna-be and local drug pusher. Ponzo also had a reputation of pushing guns to those in need. He first came to the attention of law enforcement in 1986 when he allegedly supplied the guns that took the lives of two young men in a brutal killing in a park in the North End section of Boston.
In August 1994, Romano was arrested with Ponzo after Boston police watched Ponzo hand a bag of cocaine to someone. In the pursuit that followed, Romano was seen tossing away another bag. Friends and family were shocked by the arrest. Two weeks later, on the night he was murdered, Romano was in Ponzo’s car along with Ralph Puleo when the trio discovered they had a flat tire. Romano volunteered to change it and the other two men walked to the nearby Stadium Café, operated by Robert Cirame, to wait.
As Romano was changing the tire a man walked up to the automobile and began kicking the tires. When Romano inquired as to what he was doing, the man pulled out an automatic, pressed it to Romano’s cheek, and pulled the trigger.
In a tragic twist to the night’s event, six hours after Romano’s murder, State Police Trooper Mark Charbonnier made a routine stop of a van driven by a paroled killer only to get into a deadly shootout. Law enforcement officials believe that David Clark, a mob associate connected to Salemme, was on his way home after shooting Romano. While Charbonnier was speaking with him, Clark pulled a gun and began firing. One slug hit the trooper in the stomach just below his bulletproof vest. Life-flighted to Beth Israel Hospital, Charbonnier died on the operating table. Before he went down, Charbonnier was able to get off a few shots of his own wounding Clark in the left arm and head. Clark was rushed to Massachusetts General in critical condition, but would survive.
On September 16, in a shooting which is yet to be understood, Joseph Cirame, manager of the Stadium Café, where Ponzo and Puleo waited while Romano worked at changing the tire, was shot five times as he was leaving his car in Revere. Cirame survived the near-fatal attack. Five days later, Michael Prochilo was shot at as he sat in his car, which was parked on Gladstone Street. Prochilo, who saw the approaching car with its gunmen, ducked to avoid injury.
Retaliation continued on the afternoon of October 20. Joseph Souza, described as a “fringe player” in organized crime, was shot down in a telephone booth on an East Boston street corner. Souza had a record dating back to 1975, which included assault, battery and armed robbery. He was questioned by police in the murder of State Trooper Charbonnier after being one of the last people seen with David Clark, and was alleged to have been a participant in the Romano murder. Residents of the East Boston neighborhood where Souza was gunned down were angry that it took sixteen minutes for an ambulance to arrive. One local storeowner claimed, “They could have saved that kid.” Souza was pronounced dead at Massachusetts General.
On October 31, 1994 the war spilled over into Worcester, Massachusetts when Matteo Trotto was wounded at the College Square Gym. Trotto, a Worcester drug dealer, was hit with several shots, but was able to drive himself to a hospital in nearby Framingham.
The next victim was Paul Struzella of Revere. During the early morning hours of December 11, members of the Revere Fire Department were called to the scene of an automobile fire in a parking lot on Bennington Street. After extinguishing a burning 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass, firemen found Struzella’s body. A reputed friend of Enrico Ponzo, Struzella had been shot in the head before the car was torched.
In January 1995, a federal grand jury handed down a thirty-seven-count indictment against Salemme and six other members of the Boston underworld. Included in the indictment were James “Whitey” Bulger and Steve Flemmi. The two men were the leaders of Boston’s infamous Winterhill Gang. James A. Ring, the former supervisor of Boston’s FBI organized crime squad, said of the indictment, “It’s kind of the stake through the heart.” What Ring didn’t realize at the time – over five years would pass with no trials taking place – is that the Boston FBI would be dragged through the same gutters as that of the Winterhill mob leaders and be subjected to one of the worst scandals in the bureau’s history.
Salemme went on the lam just before the indictments were announced and was not captured until August 1995 when he was found hiding in West Palm Beach, Florida. While he was a fugitive, and after he was jailed, Salemme made his younger brother, John J. “Jackie” Salemme, acting boss of the crime family.
Vincent Michael Marino, who went by the name “Gigi” Portalla, used this opportunity to try to take over the leadership of the New England mob. An imposing figure at six-foot, 220 pounds, Marino just thirty-five years old, threatened to kill Jackie Salemme. However, it would take more than just killing the acting boss to make Marino the leader of the New England Mafia. He would also need the blessing of the New York families, which he was unlikely to receive due to his well-known heavy drug use. Law enforcement officials acknowledged that Marino and most of his followers were heroin users, as were the young turks that were part of the Salemme faction. One source stated, “All those guys on heroin, making trouble and trying to take over what’s left of nothing. It’s a mess. With all the drugs involved, it will be no shock if they are all found dead.”
Marino had been arrested twelve hours after the 1989 shooting of Frank Salemme. Stopped with three associates in Revere, Marino was found in possession of a 9mm semi-automatic. He was convicted and spent thirty months in jail before being released in 1994. Since then, Marino had focused his efforts on shaking down local restaurant owners for protection money. Nearly two years after the rash of shootings in late 1994, Marino’s activities were about to bring retaliation from the Salemme loyalists.
In October 1996, Frank Imprescia, a Marino associate, was wounded in the back as he sat at his desk in a law firm where he worked. The gunman fired through a front window. During the early morning hours of November 24, Salemme gunmen struck again. Marino and his driver, Charles J. McConnel, a heavy drug user who had overdosed the previous week in a Chelsea motel, arrived at the Caravan Club in Revere around 1:00 a.m. The two had been followed there and when Marino got out of the automobile, would be killers blasted away at the pair, shattering glass windows and scaring the 150 patrons inside the dance club. Marino scrambled inside, collapsing on the dance floor, bleeding heavily from a bullet wound in the buttocks.
McConnel was wounded in the back and arm, but managed to drive a short distance to the Wonderland Ballroom where he was met by police whom he directed back to the Caravan Club to attend to Marino. Both wounded men were taken to Massachusetts General Hospital.
Just fifteen minutes after this shooting, another Marino driver and enforcer, Robert Nogueira, was shot ten times in the parking lot of a Comfort Inn hotel in Saugus, where he was staying. He was killed instantly.
Less than three weeks after this shooting, Marino and McConnel were arrested at Logan Airport by Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Charged with cocaine trafficking, Marino was flabbergasted that they had been caught. He was told by one of the agents that they had put a tracking device in his rear end. At his arraignment, Marino told a U. S. magistrate judge that federal agents had “implanted a microphone” in his butt during recent surgery. He then instructed family members to contact a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union.
The day following the shooting at the Caravan Club, Jackie Salemme was in federal court answering an eight-count indictment for running a football betting gambling ring in 1993 in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
It was now over two years since the Frank Salemme indictment and federal authorities were busy again. On April 8, 1997 they issued an 87-page, 40 count indictment charging 15 members of the “renegade faction” with 3 murders, seven murder attempts, and an additional 7 planned murders. Heading the list of those indicted was Robert Carrozza who was named as the only “made member” of those indicted.
The grand jury testimony that resulted in the indictments was dominated by Sean Thomas Cote, who was the first of four indicted members to turn government witness. Through Cote’s testimony the authorities were able to piece together the following information about the “renegade faction’s” activities and issue murder and racketeering charges:
Robert F. Carrozza, from his prison cell, orchestrated the activities of the “renegade faction” largely through Anthony Ciampi and Michael P. Romano, Sr.
Michael “Gigi Portalla” Marino and Enrico M. “Rico” Ponzo were charged with the attempted murder of Salemme.
Romano, Sr. was charged with the murder of Souza who allegedly killed Romano’s son.
Nazzaro Ralph Scarpa, Ciampi and Cote were charged with being accessories after the fact in Souza’s murder.
Mark F. Spisak and Ciampi were charged with the murder of Devlin and the wounding of Gillis.
Ciampi, Romano, Ponzo and Cote were charged with the attempted murder of Joseph Cirame.
Anthony Allan Diaz was charged with killing Paul Struzella.
Eugene A. “Gino” Rida, Jr., John M. Arciero, Paul DeCologero, Christopher Puopolo and Leo M. “Chipper” Boffoli were hit with charges including perjury, conspiracy to murder, and attempted murder.
Additional charges would be added before the trial began and Arciero, Boffoli, Cote and Spisak would plea-bargain and become government witnesses agreeing to testify against the others.
The trial did not get underway until October 1998. In perhaps a bit of fate befitting the many bizarre incidents involved with the history of the “renegade faction,” Sean Cote, the government’s star witness, died of natural causes at the age of twenty-six, before he could testify. A heavy cocaine user, Cote was in the witness protection program and being held in a federal prison in Pennsylvania for safekeeping when he died of heart failure in his cell on October 19.
Cote’s rap sheet showed more than one hundred arrests by the time he was nineteen. Faced with a life sentence, he agreed to testify about the murders and attacks for a prison term of ten to fifteen years. Prosecutors and defense attorneys sparred in the newspapers about how Cote’s death would affect the trial.
On December 10, Marino’s attorney, Robert Sheketoff, questioned “Cadillac Frank” in hopes that the mob boss would help get his client of the hook. Sheketoff and Marino wanted Salemme to tell the court that Marino was not in the automobile full of men who blasted away at him outside the International House of Pancakes restaurant in Saugus in 1989. The ploy failed. Salemme uttered one, “I wish to invoke my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent,” and U. S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton felt assured Sheketoff would get no help and dismissed the witness.
Leo “Chipper” Boffoli was called to testify against “Gino” Rida, Jr. The self-serving Boffoli stated that he was in the “sports betting business” with Rida, who was a high school friend of his. Boffoli claimed he tried to back out of a plan to murder Worcester drug dealer Matteo Trotto suggesting that they just threaten him. He claims Rida told him they wanted to make an example of Trotto so other drug dealers would fall in line. Boffoli also said Rida told him they were going to avenge the murder of Michael P. Romano, Jr. who was Rida’s cousin. For his cooperation and testimony Boffoli received a three-year sentence.
In late December the case went to the jury. In addition to the three indicted turncoats, former mob members Jerry Matricia and John “Smiley” Mele also testified. In his closing arguments, defense attorney Martin Weinberg called the five men, “Career con men, deceivers and liars.” The trial had boiled down to nine members of the “renegade faction” against five former associates.
During the three-month long trial, jurors heard testimony from 120 witnesses and saw over 300 exhibits. After nearly two weeks of deliberations the jury returned on January 12, 1999 with a disappointing verdict for the government. The jurors found Anthony Ciampi guilty of illegal gambling; Paul DeCologero and Christopher Puopolo were acquitted of all charges; the remaining defendants were acquitted on some charges, but the jury deadlocked on all others.
The counts the jurors were unable to reach a decision on were the murder and racketeering charges. Jury members who spoke to the media after the trial claimed that the government’s case was too complex and that they did not provide sufficient evidence. The U. S. attorney’s office said the men would be retried on all the counts that the jury had deadlocked on.
The big loser in the case appeared to be defendant Anthony Allan Diaz, who chose early on to plead guilty in the murder of Paul Struzella. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
In June 1999, during one of the preliminary hearings for the second trial, defense attorney Sheketoff brought to Judge Gorton’s attention the incident at Logan Airport where a DEA agent had asked Marino to sign a form so they could remove a tracking device from his rear end. While the agent admitted to making the comment, he claimed in court it was a joke. Sheketoff asked Gorton to order the government to come clean on the tracking device rumor. U. S. Attorney Donald Stern issued a statement saying, “We can confirm the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration did not implant a tracking device in defendant Vincent M. “Gigi Portalla” Marino’s buttocks. We cannot speak, however, for any extraterrestrial beings. I hope this will finally put the matter behind us.”
On November 1, 1999, just as the second trial was about to get underway, three of the defendants changed their pleas. Anthony Ciampi admitted to killing Richard Devlin and wounding Richard Gillis, and participating in several other murder attempts. Eugene Rida, Jr., the son of a retired Worcester police lieutenant, admitted to conspiring with others to kill Matteo Trotto. Rida had once told turncoat witness Boffoli that under the new regime he would be in charge of Worcester. The government dismissed six other charges against Rida, who, if convicted, would have been sent him to prison for life. The third defendant, Nazzaro Ralph Scarpa, pled guilty to the attempted murder of Salemme and to trying to kill Mark, Stephen and Ralph Rosetti. Ciampi was sentenced to eighteen years, while Rida and Scarpa were looking at ten each. The government agreed to the sentences as well as to dropping other charges in return for the pleas.
Two days later, Michael P. Romano, Sr. entered a guilty plea less than an hour before opening statements were to begin. Romano’s agreement called for him to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the aid of racketeering, interstate travel for unlawful activity, and attempted assault. The government claimed Romano was responsible for the murder of Joseph Souza, who Romano blamed for the killing of his son. The murder charge was dismissed along with thirteen other counts, and a twenty-one year sentence was recommended for the elder Romano.
Carrozza, who had been in prison for almost a decade, told the judge in a hearing held the previous July that he would represent himself at the new trial. Despite the efforts of Judge Gorton to persuade him not to, Carrozza remained adamant. In November he delivered his own opening statement beginning with, “I am a little nervous.” He then told the jury that he had already confessed to being a part of an “enterprise” during his 1992 trial. Carrozza stated, “Unlike some of the witnesses in this case, I accept the fact that I am guilty of crimes and accept punishment for them.” He let the jurors know that prison authorities have read his mail since 1989 and, despite the fact that all of his phone calls were monitored, the authorities had no evidence of him conspiring with any of the indicted men.
One month into the trial, Henry D. Katz, an attorney who had represented Carrozza in 1989, and who had been working behind the scenes with government officials, worked out a plea bargain for his former client. In return for his pleading guilty to a felony charge of gambling across state lines, Carrozza had just two years added to his current sentence and was exempted from testifying or cooperating with the government. Carrozza’s scheduled release is now set for the year 2008.
This left just two defendants from the original 1997 indictment, Vincent Marino and John J. Patti III. Ponzo, the fugitive, has yet to be tried.
Marino’s mother and girlfriend, as well as Patti’s young wife, sat through both trials. The women visited the men weekly at the prison and drove daily to the hearings held in Worcester. Whenever questioned by the media, like good Mafia women, they proclaimed the innocence of their men. Corinne Portalla, Marino’s mother, told reporters, “He has a good heart. He loves God very much.” Mrs. Portalla, whose son Louis died of a drug overdose in 1998, was afraid of losing a second son to a long prison term.
On December 15, prosecutors and defense attorneys delivered their closing arguments. The defense, which had not called a single witness, again attacked the government witnesses. John Mele, a convicted drug dealer who had told the jury that Marino used him to help finger Salemme at the pancake house in 1989, had been caught in at least one lie. Defense attorneys also sought to discredit Jerry Matricia, a former bookmaker, by pointing out that as a teenager he read obituaries and broke into people’s homes while they attended the funerals.
Seven days later, the jury returned guilty verdicts against the two men. Both were convicted on two RICO counts and conspiracy to murder in aid of racketeering. Patti was also convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Because of the volume of cocaine involved, and the fact that he had a previous drug conviction, Patti was facing a life sentence. He was acquitted of attempting to murder Michael Prochilo. On April 14, 2000, Marino was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison. As of this writing, Patti has not been sentenced.
In yet another bit of irony, the guilty verdicts, representing a victory for the FBI, came on the very day former FBI Agent John Connolly was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, racketeering, and conspiring with criminals in the marathon case against Salemme, Bulger and Flemmi.
On February 23, 2000, after spending nearly five years in prison awaiting a trial that never materialized, Salemme made a plea bargain and was sentenced to eleven years in prison. The sixty-six year old Salemme, who found out that his two co-defendants in the case, Flemmi and Bulger, were long-time FBI informants and had used him, told U. S. District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf, “I learned my lesson. Shame on me if I didn’t know after what happened to me in the last 35 years with my best friend (Flemmi). Shame on me if it happens again.”
Today Steve Flemmi is still in prison awaiting trial as judges, lawyers and prosecutors try to sort out an extremely difficult case. James “Whitey” Bulger is in his fifth year as a federal fugitive. Last year he was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
During Salemme’s sentencing hearing attorney Anthony Cardinale blamed his clients woes on the FBI. Assistant U. S. Attorney Brian T. Kelly responded, “While it may be fashionable to blame the FBI for everything, there’s no evidence they were to blame here. Mr. Cardinale is becoming the Oliver Stone of the defense bar.”
Meanwhile, Salemme’s wife Donna claimed her husband was working on a book about his life and experiences with Bulger, Flemmi and the FBI. Perhaps if the book gets turned into a movie Salemme can get Oliver Stone to direct it. It should be an epic.
Copyright A. R. May 2000