Probers Unveil Memo Showing Boston FBI Protected Killer
by J.M. Lawrence
Sunday, May 12, 2002
Congressional investigators released a “smoking gun” 1965 memo yesterday showing FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover knew informant Vincent “Jimmy The Bear” Flemmi murdered seven men but still protected him from the electric chair and let four other men go to prison for one of the murders.
“From all indications, (Jimmy The Bear) is going to continue to commit murder,” the Boston FBI special agent in charge wrote to Hoover on June 9, 1965, but concluded, “The informant's potential outweighs the risks.”
The memo names Vincent Flemmi - the younger brother of Steven “The Rifleman” Flemmi - as the killer of six men and of Edward “Teddy” Deegan in Chelsea in 1965.
The Justice Department blacked out the names of the hit man's other victims and the FBI's special agent in charge before releasing the document.
“This is a matter not limited to a couple of rogue agents. This is an endemic problem that goes straight to the top,” said U.S. Rep. John Tierney (D-Salem), making references to the on-going federal corruption trial of former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr.
During a hearing at the McCormack Building in Boston yesterday as part of a yearlong probe, members of the Government Reform Committee of the U.S. House registered outrage over the FBI's handling of informants and vowed to lift the “veil of secrecy” to restore public confidence infederal law enforcement.
“This has nothing to do with who's in the White House,” U.S. Rep. William Delahunt (D-Quincy) said. “This is a culture of concealment created over decades and we have to change this.”
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Newton) remarked, “This is one of the worst examples of failure of people to do their duty that I've ever seen.”
Investigators called the memo a “smoking gun” in their investigation of New England law enforcement and also released another explosive memo yesterday.
The document shows the Boston FBI's celebrated flipping of mob hit man Joseph “The Animal” Barboza in the 1960s against the New England Mafia was actually greased by Steven “The Rifleman” Flemmi.
Seeking pay raises for former FBI agents H. Paul Rico and Dennis Condon, the Boston FBI's special agent in charge told Hoover the agents, “via imaginative direction and professional ingenuity,” used Steven “The Rifleman” Flemmi to get Barboza to turn against the mob.
Both agents each received $150 and a commendation for getting Barboza to testify against mob Boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca and underboss Gennaro Angiulo.
The government's cover-up for Barboza's fellow hit man Vincent Flemmi allowed Barboza to lie to a 1968 Suffolk County jury about Flemmi's role in the Deegan murder.
In his testimony, Barboza put Joseph Salvati in Vincent Flemmi's place at the Deegan murder and also accused three other men who are now widely believed to be innocent - Peter J. Limone, Louis Greco and Henry Tameleo.
Limone narrowly escaped the death penalty and was released last year after 33 years in prison when prosecutors dropped the case. Greco died in prison in 1996 and Tameleo died in prison in 1985.
“The Deegan case was never a quest for truth. The truth be damned. It was more important to protect informants,” said Salvati attorney Victor J. Garo, who spent 25 years trying to free Salvati from prison.
Limone, 67, and his wife, Olympia, emerged from the session yesterday in shock.
“It gets worse and worse every day,” said the former West End club owner whose lawyers are preparing a $325 million suit against the government on behalf of his family and Greco's family.
“They were all working together. The government went to bed with the devil,” Limone said.
Salvati, who spent 30 years in prison before his sentence was commuted in 1997, also attended with his wife, Marie.
“It's a disgrace what they've done,” Salvati said after seeing the documents. “I'm just glad we've got the support of the committee to keep digging and do what we have to do to get justice.”
The young prosecutor who won the men's convictions in 1968 told the committee yesterday that the FBI hid information from him.
Now white-haired and guilt-stricken, Jack Zalkind apologized to the men and said he never would have brought the case had he known Barboza had vowed never to say anything that would allow his pal Flemmi “to fry,” as FBI
documents now reveal.
Zalkind's assistant during the Deegan trial, James M. McDonough, testified yesterday that the Deegan jury heard extensive defense arguments accusing Barboza of falsely tagging innocent men.
McDonough also pointed out that the Massachusetts Supreme Judical Court later ruled that a Chelsea Police report, which contradicted Barboza and was not shared with the men's defense, was not enough evidence to overturn their convictions.
The FBI memos released yesterday are fraught with “serious evidentary problems,” McDonough noted, explaining the information is mostly hearsay.
But Delahunt, a former Norfolk Distict Attorney, maintained the government did not ask the “hard questions” in the Deegan murder because it did not want the answers and was bent on convictions against the four men.
Limone, Greco and Tameleo all had strong mob connections.
“I understand we have an adversarial system, but it's not a game. It's a search for the truth,” Delahunt said.
The committee agreed yesterday not to call former U.S. Attorney Jeremiah O'Sullivan, head of the Organized Crime Strike Force whose convictions decimated the New England mob.
Justice Department prosecutors had asked the committee to hold off because they plan to call O'Sullivan as a witness against ex-agent Connolly, whose corruption trial resumes tomorrow in federal court.
The reform committee will hold additional hearings later this year on law enforcement in New England and will issue a report at the end of its investigation, according to a spokesman.