By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff
Reputed New England Mafia underboss Carmen "The Cheese Man" DiNunzio is poised to plead guilty to federal bribery charges and state extortion and gambling charges under an agreement that will send him to prison for six years, according to his lawyer.
The 51-year-old DiNunzio will plead guilty tomorrow afternoon in US District Court in Boston to charges that he tried to bribe an undercover FBI agent posing as a corrupt state official in a bid to secure a $6 million Big Dig contract. He has been under house arrest in his East Boston home since his indictment in the federal case 14 months ago.
As part of his agreement with federal and state officials, DiNunzio will also plead guilty in Essex Superior Court in Salem on July 8 to extortion and illegal gambling charges that were brought against him in December 2006.
DiNunzio was dubbed "The Cheese Man'' because he owns the Fresh Cheese shop on Endicott Street in the North End.
In the federal case, DiNunzio was accused of personally delivering a $10,000 bribe to the undercover agent posing as a corrupt Massachusetts highway inspector in September 2006 in a bid to secure a $6 million contract to provide 300,000 cubic yards of loam, a soil mix, to the Big Dig. He was indicted in May 2008 along with two associates on a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery.
During the undercover sting, the FBI secretly recorded DiNunzio, who met with the undercover agent when it looked like the deal might fall apart.
"Look it, I don't even come out, I come out cause of this guy,'' said DiNunzio, referring to an associate who was wavering on the deal, and assuring the undercover agent that he guaranteed they would go forward with the contract. "I'm the Cheese Man.''
DiNunzio allegedly became a made member of the Mafia in the late 1990s. He was appointed underboss five years ago by reputed boss Luigi "Louie" Manocchio of Providence, according to an FBI affidavit filed at the time of his arrest on the federal case.
As part of the plea agreement, DiNunzio will be allowed to serve his sentence in federal prison. Cardinale said he'll ask the judge to recommend that DiNunzio, who suffers from diabetes and pulmonary problems, serve his sentence at the Devens federal prison hospital in Ayer.
Massachusetts State Police Detective Lieutenant Stephen P. Johnson, who oversees organized crime investigations, said DiNunzio was the top Mafia figure in the Boston area before his 2006 arrest on the state charges, and has taken on less of a leadership role since his indictments.
"He tried to be low-key,'' said Johnson, adding that DiNunzio was less flamboyant than his predecessors, but "he still involved himself in all of the same criminal activity that the Mafia has always been involved in."
In the state case, DiNunzio is charged with extorting bookmakers, forcing them to pay money to the mob to stay in business, and running an illegal gambling operation in 2001.
"People paid because they were afraid they had to or bad things would happen to them,'' Johnson said.
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