BOSTON – Former New England Mafia boss Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme has been "no angel" but played no role in the 1993 killing of a nightclub owner, the aging's mobster's attorney told jurors Wednesday at the opening of his high-profile murder trial.
Salemme, who led the New England family of La Cosa Nostra in the early 1990s, and his co-defendant, Paul Weadick, are accused of killing Steven DiSarro to keep him from cooperating with authorities. DiSarro's body wasn't found until 2016, when authorities received a tip that it was buried behind a mill building in Providence, Rhode Island.
Salemme has admitted to participating in slayings and other crimes during his Mafia days but has long denied having anything to do with DiSarro's death, his attorney Steven Boozang said in his opening statement.
"Just because he has done those bad things doesn't mean that he has done this," attorney Steven Boozang said.
Another mobster — Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi — will testify that he saw Salemme's son strangling DiSarro while Weadick held DiSarro's feet and Salemme stood by, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak said. Salemme's son died in 1995.
DiSarro's nightclub, The Channel, was under scrutiny at the time for Salemme's involvement in the business. Federal authorities told DiSarro he was about to be indicted and should work with them against the Salemmes.
Just before DiSarro disappeared, he was distraught about being summoned to meet "the big guy", Wyshak said, and DiSarro left a note for his son indicating they may not see each other for a while.
"The Channel was under a microscope, and Frank Salemme wasn't going to lose it all ... so what did he do? He had Steven DiSarro murdered," said Wyshak, who also prosecuted gang boss James "Whitey" Bulger after his 2011 arrest.
Salemme, who was living in Atlanta under the witness protection program, took off when DiSarro's body was found, Wyshak said. When he was arrested in Connecticut, his car was filled with clothes and $28,000 in cash, Wyshak said.
Salemme and Weadick's lawyers sought to discredit the government's star witness, describing Flemmi as a liar and ruthless killer. Flemmi, who pleaded guilty to 10 murders, was a long FBI cooperator but didn't tell authorities about DiSarro until he needed to help himself, Boozang said.
Salemme, who wore a baggy gray suit with his thinning gray hair slicked back, looked frail as he walked from a wheelchair to a table to meet his lawyers before the trial began.
Salemme was charged in 1995 with participating in eight murders and agreed to plead guilty in 1999 to racketeering and extortion.
He began cooperating with authorities that year in an investigation into the FBI's corrupt relationship with Bulger and Flemmi. In exchange for his cooperation, Salemme's sentence was reduced, and he entered the witness protection program.
He pleaded guilty in 2008 to obstruction of justice and admitted to lying to authorities when he said he another former Mafia leader may have been involved in DiSarro's killing.
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