THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Reputed leader of Mafia sought FBI protection

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / August 24, 2011

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Mark Rossetti, a reputed leader in the New England Mafia and an FBI informant, thought he would be protected by the bureau after his alleged crime ring was targeted by State Police investigators, according to documents filed in Suffolk Superior Court.

And, according to taped conversations contained in the court documents, Rossetti’s FBI handler told him not to worry, that “my job is to keep you anonymous and keep you safe.’’

“You don’t have anything to worry about if things down the road happen, but if that happens, we’ll have to deal with it as it comes,’’ the handler told Rossetti. “I will have to start working it out.’’

Rossetti’s relationship with the FBI has come under scrutiny since court documents were filed indicating he had been working as an FBI informant while allegedly running a crime ring that engaged in violence, extortion, debt collection, and drug dealing. He is also suspected in at least six homicides, law enforcement officials told the Globe.

The FBI is bound by guidelines regulating the use of informants, including requirements that an informant be referred for possible prosecution for engaging in violence.

The guidelines, which also require that the US attorney’s office be made aware of the use of informants, were adopted following the scandal two decades ago involving the FBI’s use of James “Whitey’’ Bulger as an informant when, all along, he was allegedly committing crimes including murder.

The FBI has released a joint statement with the State Police saying that it cooperated with state investigators once it became aware of the alleged crimes and that at no times were any guidelines violated.

But the statement fails to describe Rossetti’s relationship with the FBI, how long it lasted, and whether it yielded any fruitful information. The charges that Rossetti ran a widespread crime ring, with more than 30 members indicted last year, also raises questions about how closely the FBI was monitoring him, and whether the bureau was aware of the extent of his alleged activities. Katherine Gulotta, an FBI spokeswoman, said yesterday that the agency would not comment beyond the original statement.

The latest Suffolk Superior Court documents were submitted by lawyer Robert A. George on behalf of clients Joseph Giallanella and Michael Petrillo, two lower-level members of Rossetti’s alleged crime ring who were indicted last year on drug charges. They do not identify Rossetti by name, but previous documents clearly identify Rossetti as the informant at issue, through a description of his role in the alleged crime ring.

The documents were part of a court motion by George to obtain more evidence about Rossetti’s relationship with the FBI, including several affidavits that were filed under seal with the court. One was submitted by a state prosecutor in support of the investigation, and others were filed by Rossetti and his lawyer in relation to the case.

Lawyers for other codefendants in the case have submitted similar requests in an effort to obtain more information about Rossetti’s relationship with the FBI, including an explanation of when Rossetti started working with the agency, and when the State Police learned of his role as an informant.

The requests are a legal strategy to have evidence in the case dismissed, with the lawyers arguing that the disclosure that Rossetti worked with the FBI and the fact that the State Police became aware of it during its investigation undermines the charges of organized crime against their clients. Under established law, a defendant cannot be charged with conspiring with a ring leader if that ring leader was all along working on behalf of the government.

State prosecutors who oppose the requests for information argue that Rossetti’s relationship with the federal government had no influence on their case.

The State Police recorded more than 40 conversations between Rossetti and his FBI handler from January through May 2010 at the same time it was applying for warrants and conducting surveillance based on what Rossetti was saying, defense lawyers argue in court documents.

Defense lawyers question whether a judge would have approved wiretaps if he had known of the FBI’s relationship with Rossetti. They also argue that State Police acknowledged in their joint statement with the FBI that it became aware of Rossetti’s role as an informant but that the wiretaps continued.

But at one point, around May 2010, Rossetti started to question the state investigation, according to court documents. He told his handler that if his associates “start going to jail, you’re gonna [sic] help me and all that . . . keep me away from that,’’ according to the court documents.

Rossetti also complained to his handler about the State Police interfering with their relationship and asked what he should do if he is subpoenaed.

“If they prosecute the case, I’m gonna have to roll with it,’’ Rossetti told his handler. “. . . What are you gonna do?’’

He later added: “This has got to be forever. I don’t want you guys turning on me and putting me in the headlines that I’m dong something with you.’’

Rossetti was arrested that month.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.