Salemme pleads guilty to racketeering
Plea deal would drop murder charges
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff, 12/10/1999
Tired after five years of legal wrangling, reputed New England Mafia boss
Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme pleaded guilty yesterday to a federal
racketeering indictment after prosecutors agreed to drop murder charges that
could have sent him to prison for life.
Dressed in a charcoal, pin-striped suit, Salemme, 66, took the witness
stand and admitted under oath that he formed a pact with South Boston crime
boss James "Whitey" Bulger to extort "rent" from bookmakers, loansharks and
drug dealers from 1979 through 1994.
When asked by US District Judge Mark L. Wolf if he had ever been known by
any other name, Salemme quipped, "Not by myself your honor, but by the press
I'm known as Cadillac Frank Salemme."
One by one, Wolf described 15 counts of racketeering, extortion, bribery,
and interstate travel in aid of racketeering, and asked Salemme if he had
committed the crimes.
"Yes sir," was the response each time.
Federal prosecutors and Salemme's attorneys filed a plea agreement,
recommending that Salemme serve a sentence ranging from 10 years and 10 months
to 13 1/2 years. Salemme would be credited with the time he has been jailed -
since August 1995 - awaiting trial, meaning he could be free in 6 1/2 years.
Salemme has not agreed to cooperate in the case.
Wolf accepted Salemme's plea, but has yet to decide whether he will accept
the agreement. If he rejects it, then under the agreement, Salemme may
withdraw his plea and go to trial.
Defending the agreement as "a good result for the government," US Attorney
Donald K. Stern noted that Wolf had indicated that he might dismiss
allegations that Salemme killed four men in 1967. The judge had raised
questions about whether the grand jury was misused to add the murder charges
to an existing indictment.
The killings include three Dorchester brothers, Edward, Walter, and William
Bennett, and another man, Richard Grasso.
Without the murder charges, Stern said Salemme would probably have faced
eight to 10 years in prison, if convicted at a trial.
"Anyone who thinks it's easy to go back 37 years and prove murders hasn't
tried any of these cases," Stern said.
Attorney Anthony Cardinale, who represents Salemme, said he was confident
that Salemme could have beaten the case, but there were "no guarantees," and
if the murder charges weren't dropped, Salemme could have faced a life
"He's tired of fighting," said Cardinale, adding that Salemme was anxious
to distance himself from his codefendant, longtime Bulger sidekick Stephen
"The Rifleman" Flemmi. Both Bulger and Flemmi have been exposed during the
case as longtime FBI informants.
While Bulger has remained a fugitive since the 1995 indictment, lawyers for
Flemmi, Salemme, and reputed mobster Robert DeLuca have tried to get the case
dismissed because Bulger and Flemmi were working as FBI informants at the same
time the government says they were members of the racketeering enterprise.
During lengthy pretrial hearings, former FBI agents revealed a cozy
relationship between some FBI agents and Bulger and Flemmi. One former FBI
supervisor admitted pocketing $7,000 in bribes from the pair and tipping them
In a 661-page ruling in September, Wolf refused to dismiss the case after
rejecting Flemmi's argument that the FBI promised him and Bulger protection
from prosecution. But Wolf is planning more hearings and has barred
prosecutors from using some evidence against Flemmi.
"Frank doesn't want to be next to Flemmi for another second, never mind
another two years," said Cardinale, referring to evidence that Flemmi leaked
information to the FBI about Salemme's activities.
But Cardinale credited Salemme with helping expose Bulger and Flemmi's
relationship with the FBI. "I believe that the positive thing that's going to
come out of it is you're going to see the whole system of how the FBI deals
with informants radically changed," he said.
Bill Chase, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office,
said the agency's informant guidelines are being reviewed by the FBI and the
"I think we did learn some lessons from this case and I think we will
benefit from them, and, yes, there will be some changes in the rules," Chase
Salemme's departure from the case leaves just Flemmi and DeLuca. "If we can
resolve this case in a way that DeLuca doesn't have to face a trial, that's an
option we have to consider," said his attorney, Randolph Gioia.
As for Flemmi, his attorney, Kenneth Fishman, said, "As far as we're
concerned, we're happy to have the courtroom to ourselves."
This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 12/10/1999.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.