December 21, 2000 Hidden truth: Hoover's FBI may have suppressed info on Mob hit By Jonathan Wells and Maggie Mulvihill Top FBI officials, including then-director J. Edgar Hoover, may have suppressed credible information that could have prevented four innocent men from being charged, tried and convicted for a 1965 Mob hit, newly disclosed FBI records reveal. The explosive FBI reports, released Tuesday by a Justice Task Force probing FBI corruption in Massachusetts, may provide potent new evidence for two men - Joseph Salvati and Peter Limone - who are trying to overturn their 32-year-old convictions for the murder of low-level gangster Edward "Teddy" Deegan. The reports show that former FBI agent H. Paul Rico, then a top organized crime investigator in the bureau's Boston office, received details on the March 12, 1965, Deegan murder from an informant the day after it happened. That informant, whose identity is blacked out in the reports, told Rico he had spoken to a known criminal, Vincent "Jimmy" Flemmi, who admitted a part in killing Deegan and revealed the names of four other men who were involved with him. Rico wrote a report two days later, on March 15, to then-FBI special-agent-in-charge in Boston James L. Handley, who four days later wrote his own report about the Deegan murder and sent it to Hoover at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. The informant provided Rico with a detailed account of the Deegan murder and gave him the names of five men who allegedly carried it out: Vincent Flemmi, Joseph "The Animal" Barboza, Ronald Cassesso, Wilfred Roy French and Romeo Martin. But when indictments were issued two years later by then-Suffolk County District Attorney Garrett Byrne, whose prosecutors worked closely on the case with Rico and the FBI, the list of Deegan's murderers had changed. The men charged were Salvati, Limone, Henry Tameleo, Louis Greco, Cassesso and French. The FBI reports released this week, if accurate, provide compelling new evidence that suggests Salvati, Limone, Tameleo and Greco were actually innocent of the Deegan murder. The government centered its case on Barboza, a notorious Mob hit man who Rico had convinced to become a government witness against the hierarchy of the New England Mafia. Barboza, considered to be a major prize by the FBI, became the first participant in the FBI's new witness protection program. Barboza testified he was a hired killer employed by Limone to kill Deegan, a Malden tough and ex-boxer. Deegan was found sprawled in a pool of his own blood in a Chelsea alley. Barboza said the murder was ordered "by what people know as Cosa Nostra." He said Tameleo, a top aide to then New England Mafia boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca, personally sanctioned the killing. In 1968, a Suffolk County jury believed Barboza and convicted Salvati, Limone, Tameleo, Greco, Cassesso and French in the murder. When the six men were indicted, tried and convicted, the penalty in Massachusetts for first- degree murder was death by electrocution. Four men - Greco, Limone, Tameleo and Cassesso - were sentenced to death in the electric chair in Walpole State Prison. After the verdict, Greco told the jury, "I'm not guilty of this murder. I took a lie detector test and it showed that I didn't do it." The four men's lives were spared in 1974 when Massachusetts abolished the death penalty and their sentences were changed to life in prison. Tameleo, Greco and Cassesso died in prison. Salvati also professed his innocence from the beginning, and in 1976 Medford attorney Victor Garo agreed to take his case. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Garo unearthed new evidence suggesting Barboza had implicated innocent men, including his client, but his motion for a new trial was opposed by the Suffolk County DA's office and later denied by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In 1997, then-Gov. William F. Weld commuted Salavati's sentence and he was released from prison. But Salvati still wants his record cleared. Salvati chose not to comment yesterday, but Garo said the latest FBI reports confirm what he has been alleging for years. "It's my opinion that the federal and state governments conspired to murder Joe Salvati and the murder weapon was the indictment," Garo said. "The cover-up started in 1965 and continues in the year 2000. When does it end? "I find all of this outrageous. This is an organization (the FBI) that we the people are supposed to be protected by and they are breaking laws whenever they want to." Garo said Hoover and the FBI were so intent on making high-profile Mob cases in the 1960s that they did not care if innocent people and their families were destroyed in the process. "Sensationalism and good press became more important than human rights and human decency," he said. Officials in the Boston office of the FBI and at FBI headquarters in Washington declined comment. An attorney for Rico, William Cagney, said he had not seen the FBI reports and declined comment. Handley, the former head of the FBI's Boston office, and Hoover are dead. The FBI reports were released by the head of the Justice Task Force, John H. Durham, and given to Garo and John Cavicchi, the attorney for Limone, who is pressing for a new trial for his client. In a cover letter to Cavicchi accompanying the FBI reports, Durham and U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern wrote that the Justice Task Force, the U.S. Attorney's office, the Boston FBI and FBI headquarters "understand the potential significance of the enclosures to Mr. Limone and Mr. Salvati. "These documents are being made available to you with the concurrence and encouragement of the Boston FBI and FBI Headquarters." Neither Durham nor Stern would comment further. The letter did not mention Suffolk County DA Ralph C. Martin II, whose office successfully opposed Salvati's attempt to get a new trial and is currently fighting Limone's motion for new trial. Yesterday, Martin declined to be interviewed about the FBI reports unearthed by Durham's office. Instead, he released a written statement stating his office received the documents for the first time Tuesday, and is in the process of reviewing them. Martin also said his office is "intent on pursuing the truth about the Deegan murder, wherever it leads us, and to do so as expeditiously as possible." Jack Zalkind, the lead prosecutor for Suffolk County at the Deegan murder trial in 1968, was surprised yesterday when told of the just-released FBI reports. "I am stunned," Zalkind said. "I have never seen any FBI reports that were signed by Paul Rico and I was the prosecutor," Zalkind said. The newly disclosed FBI reports also reveal for the first time that the FBI recruited Vincent Flemmi as an informant, right around the time Deegan was murdered. Just a month earlier, Vincent Flemmi's brother, the notorious Winter Hill Gang boss Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, had been signed up as an informant by Rico. Lawyers involved in the case have suggested that the FBI privately agreed not to indict Vincent Flemmi for the Deegan murder as a favor to his brother Stephen Flemmi, who by then had become a "top echelon" informant. The newly released FBI reports raise the possibility that Vincent Flemmi was protected because he himself was an informant for the FBI. The reports also raise questions about the FBI's decision to use Vincent Flemmi as an informant, given his apparent appetite for killing. In May 1964 report, Rico's partner, FBI agent Dennis M. Condon said he spoke with an informant about Vincent Flemmi. "FLEMMI told him that all he wants to do now is to kill people, and that it is better than hitting banks . . . Informant said, FLEMMI said that he feels he can now be the top hit man in this area and intends to be."