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Prosecution Of Former Mob Boss Approaches Crucial Moment

Francis Salemme
This 1995 file photo taken in West Palm Beach, Fla., and released by the FBI shows Francis P. "Cadillac Frank" Salemme.
Federal Bureau of Investigation via AP, File

As the murder trial of former New England mob boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme and co-defendant Paul Weadick enters its second week, the most damning testimony may be yet to come — for both sides.

That’s because soon in this case, jurors will have to weigh testimony tying the defendants to the 1993 murder of Massachusetts club owner Stephen DiSarro against the fact that much of it will be coming from admitted ex-mob members with lengthy criminal records and histories of lying under oath.

That includes testimony from at least two anticipated witnesses who have not yet taken the stand: former mobster Joseph DeLucca; and Stephen Joseph “The Rifleman” Flemmi, now serving a life sentence for 10 murders and who testified for the prosecution in the trial of Boston gangster Whitey Bulger.

Flemmi, prosecutors acknowledged in opening statements for this case, will avoid the death penalty for his cooperation.

The testimony jurors have heard so far has been largely contextual: laying out the circumstances by which DiSarro’s remains were discovered, painting a picture of organized crime in the early 1990s and Salemme’s power as regional mafia chief.

Salemme is accused of ordering the murder of DiSarro, former owner of the Boston rock club The Channel, who disappeared after leaving his Westwood, Massachusetts home one morning in 1993. His remains were discovered buried on an industrial site in Providence in 2016.

Prosecutors say Salemme feared that DiSarro, under investigation himself for bank fraud, would give information to the FBI about Salemme and his associates, and Salemme therefore ordered him killed. Co-defendant Paul Weadick allegedly carried out the order, strangling DiSarro with the help of Salemme’s son, Frank Jr., who is now deceased.

Jurors have already heard from 73-year-old Thomas Hillary, a former mob member who testified for the prosecution and is in the federal witness protection program.

A “bad guy” by his own sworn testimony, Hillary said that in the 1990s he trafficked drugs and was a con man and extortionist who shook down local bookies for what he called “rent.”

He was able to get away with his various crimes, Hillary testified, because he enjoyed Salemme’s protection. Hillary’s spree as a mid-level mobster with the blessing of Salemme ended abruptly when, after a falling out, he was told to leave Boston forever.

But down one protector, Hillary would later acquire a new one: the United States government.

Hillary, like at least one other mob member prosecutors expect to call, has cooperated with the government before. That can make for at least the appearance of compromised motives. And that is exactly what lawyers for Salemme and Weadick will drive at in their cross examinations of the government’s witnesses.

Jurors got a taste of that argument in Hillary’s cross-examination.

“For all those crimes that you committed, sir,” asked Steven Boozang, Salemme's attorney, “you’ve done less than one year in jail?”

Hillary answered with audible satisfaction.

“That’s correct,” he said.

And was it true, Boozang asked, that during that stint of incarceration Hillary was receiving funds from the government for cooperating?

Hillary responded, “That’s correct.”

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