(Robert Spencer for The Boston Globe/file)
Carmen "Cheese Man" DiNunzio, shown above during a 2007 court appearance, was arrested today in a Big Dig corruption sting.
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff
Reputed New England Mafia underboss Carmen "Cheese Man" DiNunzio was arrested this morning on charges stemming from a 2006 sting operation in which he allegedly gave an undercover FBI agent a $10,000 bribe to secure a $6 million contract for the Big Dig, according to a federal indictment unsealed today.
DiNunzio was trying to obtain a contract to provide 300,000 cubic yards of loam or fill for the Big Dig. The $10,000 was a down payment on a bribe for the FBI agent posing as an inspector for the Massachusetts Highway Department, according to the five-page indictment.
US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan said at a press conference this afternoon that the alleged bribery was "an affront to hardworking Americans whose tax dollars fund projects like the Big Dig."
The FBI used the $15 billion highway project as a lure, Sullivan said, even though there is no evidence that La Cosa Nostra or other organized crime outfits have infiltrated the Big Dig.
Warren T. Bamford, the special agent in charge of the Boston FBI, described DiNunzio’s arrest as a major blow to what remains a very real criminal threat.
"We've caused a significant disruption in this organization,” said Bamford, adding that the FBI will be watching to see who fills the void if DiNunzio is convicted.
DiNunzio, 50, and two other men -- Anthony J. D'Amore, 55, of Revere, and Andrew Marino, 42, of Chelmsford -- appeared this afternoon in US District Court in Boston to face one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in a program that is receiving federal funds.
DiNunzio pleaded not guilty. D'Amore and Marino have yet to hire lawyers, and their arraignment was postponed until May 21. US Magistrate Judge Joyce London Alexander ordered DiNunzio and D'Amore held without bail at the government's request, pending a hearing May 7 on whether they should remained jailed until the case is resolved. Marino was released on personal recognizance.
The magistrate ordered DiNunzio to be held at the federal prison hospital at Devens after his lawyer, Anthony Cardinale, said his client suffers from a heart condition, Type 2 Diabetes, sleep apnea, and other health problems.
Cardinale declined to comment on the charges because he said he has not reviewed all of the evidence against his client. "He takes it seriously,” Cardinale said. “He understands these are serious charges.''
DiNunzio, the rotund owner of the Fresh Cheese Shop on Endicott Street in the North End, is already facing extortion and illegal gambling charges from a 2006 indictment by an Essex County grand jury. DiNunzio has pleaded not guilty to allegations that he was shaking down bookmakers, forcing them to pay his syndicate to stay in business, and running a gambling operation that focused on sports betting. He is facing up to 15 years in prison.
According to an FBI affidavit also filed in court today, DiNunzio met on Oct. 9, 2006, with an undercover FBI agent that he believed was a corrupt Massachusetts Highway Department employee. DiNunzio was unaware that he was secretly being recorded as they discussed concerns about whether Marino, DiNunzio's associate, was going to back out of the loam deal.
According to the affidavit, the undercover agent said he needed "a guarantee that somebody's got their foot on Marino's neck.''
DiNunzio said, "Listen to me. Right here you got the guarantee from here."
The undercover agent said, "I don't know you."
DiNunzio, the allegedly reclusive Mafia underboss, said, "Look it, I don't even come out, I come out cause of this guy. I'm the Cheeseman.''
"You're the cheeseman?" the agent said.
"You ask anybody about me,'' DiNunzio said. "We straighten out a lot of beefs, a lot of things.''
DiNunzio said his friends would go through with the loam deal or they'd face problems.
"They better leave town,'' he said. "Cause it ain't gonna be safe nowhere for them.''
Later, he added, "If the check ain't there, then I'm going to the [expletive] can cause somebody's gonna get hurt.''
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