The House Government Reform Committee plans hearings to investigate the use of confidential informants by the Boston field office of the FBI and the policies that allowed several informants to seize control of Boston's organized crime operations and manage them for decades under the protection of federal law enforcement, committee sources said.
The first hearing, scheduled for May 3, will examine the 1967 convictions of Peter Limone and Joseph Salvati for the 1965 gangland slaying of Edward "Teddy" Deegan. The men were convicted after evidence that they might be innocent, which was in the possession of the FBI, was kept from defense attorneys. FBI documents also indicate that the accusations against them made by the primary witness in the case were fabricated to protect the identity of the real killers.
The March 12, 1965, murder remained unsolved until October 1967, when based on the testimony of the first major mobster to cooperate with an investigation - Joseph "The Animal" Barboza - Limone and Salvati were convicted and sentenced to death. Their sentences were commuted to life in prison when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in 1972.
A memorandum to Hoover from the Boston field office dated a week after the murder states, "Informants report that … Vincent James Flemmi and Joseph Barboza, prominent local hoodlums, were responsible for the killing." The memo goes on to describe in detail how the murder was carried out.
"J. Edgar Hoover and senior members of the FBI conspired to murder my client," Salvati attorney Victor Garo said. "This was not the work of rogue agents."
Committee investigators, defense attorneys, current federal prosecutors and others familiar with the case now say that Salvati and Limone were innocent of the murder.
After a Justice Department investigation into the Boston FBI office unearthed exculpatory documents kept by the FBI for over 30-years, a motion for a new trial for the men was granted and Boston Assistant District Attorney Mark Lee declined to pursue charges on Jan. 30, 2001.
Salvati was released as a result of the investigation. Limone had been paroled in the mid-1990s.
The committee plans to use the May 3 hearing to examine the decision to keep informant statements that implicated others in the crime from defense attorneys. They also plan to explore whether the FBI merely allowed suspicious and contradictory prosecution testimony from Barboza - the first ever entrant into the FBI's Witness Protection Program - or whether agents actually participated in perjury to protect his credibility in other cases and to protect the identity of another informer, Steven "The Rifleman" Flemmi, whose brother Vincent James Flemmi they believed participated in the crime.
The Salvati family and attorneys will testify at the hearing. FBI officials might also be called, according to committee sources.
Committee sources said that further hearings are expected into the behavior of the FBI in dealing with Steven Flemmi and James "Whitey" Bulger, who parlayed their relationships with the FBI - Bulger became an informant for the agency in 1975 - into control of the Boston underworld. Currently, former FBI Special Agent John Connolly - the agent in charge of the informants from 1975 to the early 1990s - is in prison awaiting trial on charges that range from bribery to the possibility that information he supplied to Bulger led to the deaths of other FBI informants. He has also admitted warning Bulger that a warrant was issued for his arrest, allowing Bulger to escape arrest and flee in 1995. Bulger remains on the FBIs Ten Most Wanted List.
Lawmakers plan to investigate whether it was the actions of a few rogue agents that allowed Bulger and Flemmi to conduct their criminal enterprise, including at least 20 murders, with total impunity from law enforcement, or whether the agency knowingly turned a blind eye to the actions of their informants because of the quality of information on other criminals they supplied over the 20-year period.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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