Patriarca Family Boss Cadillac Frank Salemme Loses Life Sentence Appeal For Murder Of Nightclub Owner

A Federal appeals court in Boston yesterday (Friday, September 24) upheld the life sentences of New England Cosa Nostra boss Francis (Cadillac Frank) Salemme and mob associate Paul Weadick for the 1993 murder of Steven DiSarro, a Federal witness whose remains were found in an unmarked grave in Rhode Island in 2016.

1993 surveillance photo: Salemme, left, Flemmi, back to camera, Salemme Jr. right at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Mass.
1993 surveillance photo, from left: Salemme, Flemmi with back to camera, Frank Jr. 

According to Federal prosecutors, Salemme, 88, held a secret interest in a South Boston nightclub called The Channel, which DiSarro purchased. Salemme had DiSarro killed after he began to believe that the nightclub owner was talking to the FBI and was about to implicate him in criminal activity.

The Fed's star witness at Salemme and Weadick's 2018 trial was Stephen (The Rifleman) Flemmi, the longtime partner of Winter Hill boss Whitey Bulger. Flemmi, 84, who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders, testified that he had walked in on the Salemmes, father and son, and Weadick, 66, who were in the process of murdering DiSarro.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston affirmed the jury’s 2018 verdict finding Salemme and Weadick guilty of killing DiSarro.

Fueling the appeal was "the admission at trial of a large amount of evidence concerning the prior criminal activities of Salemme and several witnesses," according to the appeals court ruling.

"Weadick complains, among other things, that by trying him jointly with Salemme and then introducing evidence covering three decades of crimes by Salemme, the government deprived him of a fair trial. Salemme, in turn, argues that much of that evidence about his past was inadmissible hearsay or propensity evidence."

 U.S. Circuit Judge William Kayata, writing for the three-judge panel, rejected the appeal claims and noted that the evidence met the standard that it needed to meet. He also rejected Weadick’s claims about being deprived of a fair trial because he had been tried alongside Salemme.

To access the appeal, click here for PDF.

Mark Shea, Weadick’s lawyer, promised a further appeal, saying his client was “wrongfully convicted.” Salemme’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

As for the background of the murder charge, according to a court filing from the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts, in 1992, DiSarro bought a shuttered nightclub in Boston with funds that Frank Jr. gave him. This was because at the time, DiSarro was under investigation, and the papers listed DiSarro's stepbrother as the owner. Frank Jr. was kept on the books as a part-time manager, which allowed him to avoid a full curfew as a condition of pre-trial release following his arrest on labor racketeering charges. Weadick, a close friend of Frank Jr., was hired as a night manager. 

Weadick and Frank Jr. had a history of ripping off drug dealers together, knowing that the specter of the New England La Cosa Nostra (NELCN) would deter any retaliation.

In March of 1993, a federal agent approached DiSarro, telling him that he was under investigation and asking him to cooperate. 

Upon hearing this news, Salemme voiced concern that DiSarro would implicate Frank Jr. and eventually Salemme himself. Weadick expressed similar concerns to Frank Jr. Around the same time, Frank Jr. and Salemme also told others that they suspected DiSarro of stealing from the nightclub.

Having trouble getting a meeting with DiSarro, Weadick and Frank Jr. discussed inviting him to Salemme's house to make him feel safe.

Soon thereafter, DiSarro was approached by another federal agent, who told him he had been indicted, and, for the second time, asked him to cooperate with the government. DiSarro reported this contact to both his stepbrother, who nominally owned the club, and his wife. The next morning, DiSarro's wife watched him get into a car she didn't recognize, but her description of the vehicle matched a car Frank Jr. sometimes used. She never saw her husband again.

Over 20 years later, a Rhode Island excavator, who had been charged with committing various offenses, led law enforcement officials to a location in Rhode Island where they unearthed DiSarro's remains.

Forensic examination revealed that DiSarro had been strangled. The excavator's information also led to Robert DeLuca, a captain in the NE LCN, who confessed that he had received DiSarro's body from Salemme with orders to dispose of it. DeLuca reported that he had heard from Salemme that Weadick had driven DiSarro to Salemme's house, where Frank Jr. strangled DiSarro as Weadick held his legs, all in Salemme's presence.

DeLuca's information provided the breakthrough law enforcement had been looking for in investigating DiSarro's disappearance. Eventually, the government initiated this case by indicting Salemme and Weadick for murdering DiSarro with the intent, at least in part, to prevent him from talking to federal authorities. Frank Jr. had died by the time charges were filed.

At trial, Flemmi testified that he walked in on DiSarro's murder at Salemme's house as it was happening, just as DeLuca described it.
Weadick's girlfriend at the time of the murder testified that she had overheard Weadick and Frank Jr. expressing concerns that DiSarro "had a big mouth" right before the murder. She also reported that Weadick left their apartment shortly thereafter and was in an agitated state when he returned. He gave her a man's bracelet and told her that she would not need to worry about seeing DiSarro again. Later, as they were driving south of Boston, Weadick told her that a location they had passed would be a good place to bury a body.

After 23 days of trial, the jury found both defendants guilty.

Francis (Cadillac Frank) Salemme
Cadillac Frank was nabbed while in witness protection.

Salemme had been arrested in Connecticut in 2016, after living in Atlanta as "Richard Parker" in the federal witness protection program before fleeing. Salemme previously was convicted of federal racketeering charges in 1999 and obstruction of justice in 2008 for not telling the truth to federal authorities about DiSarro's murder, according to prosecutors.

DiSarro was a 43-year-old father of five who disappeared on May 10, 1993.

Weadick is currently at the United States Penitentiary, Canaan, in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.

Salemme is at the US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. (We noticed this morning that the website for the facility includes an ominous exclamation at the top of the page that reads: "All visiting at this facility has been suspended until further notice." It's related to COVID-19, of course.)

Bulger and Flemmi, FBI Informants Since the 1960s
Bulger and Flemmi were both FBI "Top Echelon" informants who corrupted their handlers to the extent that FBI supervisor John Morris allegedly told Flemmi, "You can commit any crime as long as you don't 'clip' anybody."

John Durham—yes, that, John Durham, see pic below, the Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice who recently charged Washington DC attorney Michael Sussmann for allegedly lying to the FBI—was a special prosecutor in the Bulger case. 

John Durham
 Durham was special prosecutor in the Whitey Bulger case.

"The reality was that both Bulger and Flemmi were notorious, really bad actors in Boston when they were recruited by the FBI as informants in Boston," Durham said.

Durham said the FBI had regulations in place when the two were recruited in the late 1960s, yet Bulger and Flemmi acted as if "they had the keys to the kingdom," bribing their handlers and using leaked information to help them to run narcotics trafficking, loan sharking, and extortion rackets. They are behind about 20 murders.

Informants should be the starting point of an investigation, Durham said, and their information should be corroborated or used to convince a judge to authorize wiretaps. The objective is to record the defendant's own words and use them to build the case against him.

After about a year, the investigation culminated with an indictment charging Flemmi and FBI handler John Connolly for racketeering and obstruction of justice. Bulger, at the time, was a fugitive and Connolly had retired from the FBI.

Flemmi pleaded guilty to racketeering and 10 murders and is serving a life sentence.

In 2002, Connolly (nicknamed "Zip") went to trial. Durham prosecuted.

He said it was a "unique" proceeding in which the defendant was allowed to sit with his wife in the courtroom gallery. The prosecution team had made "the very difficult decision," after consulting with the U.S. attorney general and victim's families, to use as a witness John Martarano, a mob hitman who had confessed to killing 20 people.

Connolly was convicted and served 10 years. But he was arrested again for providing information to Flemmi and Bulger that led to the 1982 murder of jai alai executive John Callahan in Miami.

Today, Connolly is serving a 40-year prison sentence in Florida.

Bulger was captured in 2011 after 16 years on the lam. One of the most notorious gangster snitches of the 20th century, Bulger was found viciously beaten to death inside a West Virginia prison on October 30, 2018. 

Bulger's Winter Hill Gang was decimated by federal prosecutions, Durham said, and Cosa Nostra is "nothing like it was." But there's consequences, Durham said. For one thing, the concentration of criminal activity becomes scattered....