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Ex-mobster reportedly strikes deal

Gains leniency by implicating Flemmi, Bulger

By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff, 9/09/1999

John Martorano, a ruthless hit man who has admitted killing 20 people -- including a Tulsa millionaire and a pair of unwitting Roxbury teenagers -- could walk free in less than eight years under a deal secretly approved by prosecutors from Massachusetts, Florida, and Oklahoma, according to sources familiar with the case.

In a world where criminals cut deals by trading up, Martorano, 58, has offered after more than a year of negotiations to give up two notorious gangsters who betrayed him for years while working as FBI informants: fugitive South Boston crime boss James J. ``Whitey'' Bulger and Stephen ``The Rifleman'' Flemmi.

Martorano, a former member of Somerville's Winter Hill Gang along with Bulger and Flemmi, is willing to reveal his own role in a string of unsolved slayings spanning three decades and three states, apparently in the hope that he can bring Bulger and Flemmi down with him.

While Martorano admits to murders in two states that carry the death penalty -- Florida and Oklahoma -- he has been assured that he'll never go to trial on those charges. Both states, however, have the right to call Martorano as a witness if anyone else implicated in the slayings goes to trial, the Globe has been told.

The deal comes 14 months after Martorano first broke ranks with Bulger and Flemmi and offered to cooperate in exchange for leniency.

His cooperation comes at a critical time. Martorano has agreed to plead guilty to January 1995 racketeering charges just days before US District Judge Mark L. Wolf is expected to rule on a defense request to drop the case against him, Bulger, Flemmi, reputed New England Mob boss Francis ``Cadillac Frank'' Salemme, and Robert DeLuca amid evidence of FBI corruption and misconduct.

Flemmi has alleged that he and Bulger -- both longtime FBI informants -- were promised immunity by the FBI in exchange for leaking information to the bureau about their Mafia rivals.

Martorano has refused to meet with the FBI, but has spent hundreds of hours being interviewed by the Massachusetts State Police, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and more recently by investigators from Oklahoma and Florida, according to sources.

Earlier this year, Martorano's brother, Jimmy, who is serving a 15-month prison term on racketeering charges, said his brother stepped forward to stop Bulger and Flemmi from using the FBI to blame others for things they had done.

``I don't think anyone in this case is contending they were an angel,'' Jimmy Martorano said in an interview earlier this year. ``But we weren't informants and we didn't do things and blame other people for them. Stevie and Whitey were the biggest criminals of all.''

Under the deal, Martorano will plead guilty to federal racketeering, race-fixing, bookmaking, and extortion charges that have been pending against him since January 1995 in federal court in Boston. And he'll also plead guilty to a newly crafted federal ``information'' charging him with being part of a gangland racketeering enterprise that involved 10 murders, according to sources.

Accomplices to most of those murders are identified as ``John Doe 1 and John Doe 2,'' but sources identified them as Bulger and Flemmi.

Prosecutors have agreed to recommend that Martorano be sentenced to 12 1/2 to 15 years in prison. But since Martorano has already spent nearly five years in jail awaiting trial in the racketeering case, he'll get credit for time served. He could be a free man in eight to 10 1/2 years.

The agreement has been approved by Boston attorney Francis J. DiMento Sr., who represents Martorano, US Attorney Donald K. Stern, Suffolk District Attorney Ralph C. Martin II, Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, Miami-Dade County Attorney Robert A. Ginsburg, and Tulsa District Attorney Tim Harris, sources said.

None of the parties involved in the delicate, secret negotiations would comment yesterday, but relatives of some of the victims said that Martorano's confessions would bring closure.

As with any deal, the sentencing judge -- in Martorano's case Wolf -- is not compelled to go along with it. But if Wolf refuses to sentence Martorano within the 12 1/2-to-15-year range agreed upon by his lawyer and prosecutors, then Martorano has the right to withdraw his guilty plea and the deal would be off.

Investigators would be prohibited from using any of the information Martorano provided to the State Police and the DEA to build cases against him or anyone else.

It is a stunning deal, observers say, the likes of which haven't been seen in Boston's underworld since 1968, when Joseph ``The Animal'' Barboza admitted killing 26 people, but served less than a year in prison after testifying against the hierarchy of the New England Mafia. He was gunned down in San Francisco in 1976 by avenging mobsters from Boston.

Martorano has confessed to killing even more people than the nation's most celebrated mobster-turned-government witness, Gambino family underboss Salvatore ``Sammy the Bull'' Gravano.

By Martorano's own admission, according to sources, he pumped a bullet into Roger Wheeler's head on May 27, 1981, just after the millionaire chairman of Telex Corp. and owner of World Jai Alai had finished a round of golf at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa.

Sources said Martorano has implicated the late Winter Hill Gang member Joseph McDonald as his accomplice in the slaying. But, sources said, Martorano contends the murder was orchestrated in Boston by Bulger and Flemmi, who were FBI informants at the time.

The FBI's handling of the Wheeler murder investigation has come under heavy criticism from state authorities.

Eight months after Wheeler's murder, Winter Hill Gang member Brian Halloran told FBI agents in Boston that the plot had been orchestrated by Bulger, Flemmi, and former World Jai Alai president John Callahan of Winchester. Halloran told the FBI that Callahan had asked him to help kill Wheeler because Wheeler suspected that the Winter Hill Gang was using employees who remained loyal to Callahan to skim profits from the company's frontons in Florida and Connecticut.

Halloran said he didn't participate in the murder, but identified John Martorano as the triggerman and said Bulger and Flemmi were at the scene in getaway cars.

The FBI refused a deal with Halloran, concluding he wasn't credible. He was fatally gunned down on May 11, 1982, on Boston's waterfront.

Then, on Aug. 3, 1982, Callahan's bullet-riddled body was found in the trunk of a Cadillac at Miami International Airport.

Sources said Martorano has admitted killing Callahan as well and provided investigators with information about Halloran's slaying.

In the days after Wheeler's slaying, investigators speculated it was the work of a professional hit man who coolly executed the crime and fled without a trace.

They were right about the killer. By then, Martorano had already killed 17 men and a woman in Massachusetts, according to sources.

Most were swift, a gunshot wound to the head. And most were victims of gangland feuds. But others were innocent victims, people caught in the wrong place or involved with the wrong people.

Some murders Martorano did alone. Some, he alleges, were with the help of Bulger and Flemmi. And others, he says, were done at Bulger and Flemmi's urging.

Martorano has admitted that he killed for the first time when he was 24, just six years after graduating from Milton High School, where he co-captained the football team.

That victim, Robert Palladino, 32, of Winchester, had testified before a Suffolk grand jury that indicted Martorano's brother, Jimmy, for being an accessory in the murder of a young waitress whose body was stashed in the loft of a restaurant owned by the Martorano family.

Palladino, who had allegedly been a suspect in the murder of the waitress, was found dead under the Central Artery near North Station on Nov. 15, 1964. He had been shot behind the ear.

The following year, according to sources, Martorano killed another man who testified before the same grand jury. John Jackson, a bartender, was gunned down outside his Back Bay apartment.

Then on Jan. 6, 1968, came perhaps the most brutal killings of all.

The man Martorano was gunning for was Herbert ``Smitty'' Smith, an assistant manager at the Basin Street South nightclub in Boston's South End, who apparently had gotten into an underworld beef, according to sources. But when Smith arrived for a meeting with Martorano, he had two passengers in his car, Elizabeth Dickson, 19, and Douglas Barrett, 17. Martorano has admitted killing all three with gunshots to the head, according to sources.

When police arrived, they found the three inside a car parked on Normandy Street in Roxbury, a cigarette still smoldering in Dickson's hand.

There were other innocent victims as well. Michael Milano, a bartender at a North Station nightspot, was mistaken for the club's owner by Martorano and other gunmen who sprayed his Mercedes-Benz with gunfire at a Brighton traffic light on March 8, 1973, sources said.

Milano, 30, was killed and his two passengers injured.

Milano was one of five people Martorano murdered in 1973, according to sources.

The killings stopped for awhile when Martorano fled Massachusetts in 1978 to evade a race-fixing indictment. He remained a fugitive until his arrest in Boca Raton, Fla., in 1995.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 09/09/1999.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.



 KEY FIGURES
Whitey Bulger
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1 9 8 8
The Bulger mystique
A look at Boston's famous brothers, William and Whitey.

1 9 9 5
The story of Whitey's fall
How investigators brought down the elusive criminal.

1 9 9 8
Whitey & the FBI
The relationship between Bulger and Boston's law men.

1 9 9 8
Whitey's life on the run
The fugitive mobster's relentless travels across the country.

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