Thursday, 4:30 PM
$101m civil verdict for wrongful convictions in gangland murder
(Bill Greene/ Globe Staff)
Joe Salvati (center) smiled today outside federal court with his attorneys, Austin McGuigan (left) and Victor Garo.
By Shelley Murphy and Brian R. Ballou, Globe Staff
A federal judge, in a scathing rebuke of the FBI, ordered the government to pay a record $101.7 million for its role in wrongfully sending four men to prison for a 1965 gangland murder in Chelsea.
US District Judge Nancy Gertner found that the FBI withheld evidence that the men had been framed, as Peter Limone and Joseph Salvati grew old during their three decades in prison, and Louis Greco and Henry Tameleo died behind bars. The judge chastised the FBI because she said agents knew that a key witness, notorious hitman Joseph "The Animal" Barboza, was lying, yet withheld critical evidence from state prosecutors and told them that his story "checked out."
"It took 30 years to uncover this injustice," Gertner said. "This case is about intentional misconduct, suborning of perjury ... the framing of innocent men."
Gertner said the FBI considered the four men "collateral damage" as they touted Barboza as a credible witness in their quest to take down La Cosa Nostra, more commonly known as the Mafia.
US Justice Department lawyers have argued that the FBI was not liable because it had no obligation to share internal documents with state prosecutors or defense lawyers, and that the state prosecuted the four men after conducting an independent investigation.
"The government's position is, in a word, absurd," Gertner said.
The judge, who heard testimony during 22 days of trial that ended in February and has been weighing her decision since then, announced her ruling from the bench today as Limone, 73, of Medford, Salvati, 74, of the North End, and relatives and friends of all four men packed the courtroom.
"It is a great day for my family and friends," Salvati said outside court, adding that the money doesn't make up for the three decades he spent in prison.
"It's very emotional for me because we went through three generations of family life," said his wife, Marie Salvati, who struggled to raise her four children, and watched them become adults with children of their own while her husband remained in prison. "We have our good name back after 40 years."
As he gathered outside the courtroom with his wife, children and friends, Peter Limone said, "I thank this court for making a terrible wrong a right. I hope this never happens to anyone again. It's unbelievable what I've been through."
Justice Department attorneys Bridget Bailey Lipscomb and Keith Liddle, who defended the government against the civil suit, declined to comment today as they left the courthouse. The FBI referred calls to the Justice Department.
Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment on whether the government would appeal. He said the government had yet to review Gertner's written ruling, which can be found here.
Lawyers for the four men estimated that it would likely take about two years for the government to exhaust all of its appeals, if it decides to challenge Gertner's decision.
Salvati, who was a 34-year-old father of four young children when he was arrested, and spent 29 years and seven months in prison, was awarded $29 million. Limone, also a young father of four when he was arrested, spent 33 years and two months in prison, was awarded $26 million.
Tameleo died in prison on Aug. 18, 1985 at age 84 after serving 18 years in prison. His estate was awarded $13 million. The estate of Greco, who died in prison on Dec. 30, 1995 at age 78 after serving 28 years, was awarded $28 million.
The judge also gave money to individual family members for loss of consortium and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The wives of two of the men -- Olympia Limone and Marie Salvati -- each received $1,050,000. Tameleo's wife, Jeannete, died in 1979 while he was in prison. Her estate received $1,050,000. Greco's ex-wife, Roberta Werner, was awarded $50,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The 10 children of Limone, Salvati, and Greco, who were all young when their fathers went to prison, each got $250,000 for loss of consortium and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Tameleo's son Saverio "Edward" Tameleo, who was an adult when his father was convicted, was awarded $50,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The estate of Tameleo's other son, Louis Jr., who committed suicide in 1997, received $250,000.
The four men were convicted in 1968 of the slaying of small-time hoodlum Edward "Teddy" Deegan, who was gunned down in a Chelsea alley.
The discovery of secret FBI files that were never turned over during the men's 1968 trial prompted a state judge six years ago to overturn the murder convictions of Limone, who was immediately freed from prison, and Salvati, who was paroled in 1997.
The documents showed that the FBI knew Barboza may have falsely implicated the four men, while protecting one of Deegan's true killers, Vincent "Jimmy" Flemmi, who was an FBI informant. The brother of fellow informant Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, Vincent Flemmi was in prison on unrelated charges when he died in 1979.
During the civil trial before Gertner, US Justice Department lawyers argued that the FBI had no duty to share internal documents with state prosecutors and insisted the state was responsible for the prosecution of the four men.
"The United States is not liable to plaintiffs because they were convicted as a result of a state prosecution," Justice Department attorney Bridget Bailey Lipscomb told the judge during closing arguments. "The FBI did not initiate this prosecution and there is no duty of the FBI to submit to state or local governments any of its internal files."
However, lawyers for the four men argued that the FBI was to blame because agents knew Barboza had falsely implicated the four men, yet sat on documents that could have helped them prove their innocence.
Deegan's murder had been unsolved until the FBI recruited Barboza to testify at several trials against local organized crime figures and turned him over to the state. The FBI's top priority at the time, under director J. Edgar Hoover, was to dismantle the Mafia. Tameleo was the reputed consigliere of the New England Mob, while Limone was alleged to be a leader in Boston.