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Allan May, Crime HistorianCrime Historian -Allan May

Allan May is an organized crime historian, writer and lecturer. He teaches classes on the history of organized crime at Cuyahoga Community College. Contact him at AllanMay@AmericanMafia.com

Mob War in Beantown
(Part Two)
By Allan May

     In January 1995, a federal grand jury handed down a thirty-seven-count indictment against Salemme and six other members of the Boston underworld. Included in the indictment were James “Whitey” Bulger and Steve Flemmi. The two men were the leaders of Boston’s infamous Winterhill Gang. James A. Ring, the former supervisor of Boston’s FBI organized crime squad, said of the indictment, “It’s kind of the stake through the heart.” What Ring didn’t realize at the time – over five years would pass with no trials taking place – is that the Boston FBI would be dragged through the same gutters as that of the Winterhill mob leaders and be subjected to one of the worst scandals in the bureau’s history.

     Salemme went on the lam just before the indictments were announced and was not captured until August 1995 when he was found hiding in West Palm Beach, Florida. While he was a fugitive, and after he was jailed, Salemme made his younger brother, John J. “Jackie” Salemme, acting boss of the crime family.

     Vincent Michael Marino, who went by the name “Gigi” Portalla, used this opportunity to try to take over the leadership of the New England mob. An imposing figure at six-foot, 220 pounds, Marino just thirty-five years old, threatened to kill Jackie Salemme. However, it would take more than just killing the acting boss to make Marino the leader of the New England Mafia. He would also need the blessing of the New York families, which he was unlikely to receive due to his well-known heavy drug use. Law enforcement officials acknowledged that Marino and most of his followers were heroin users, as were the young turks that were part of the Salemme faction. One source stated, “All those guys on heroin, making trouble and trying to take over what’s left of nothing. It’s a mess. With all the drugs involved, it will be no shock if they are all found dead.”

     Marino had been arrested twelve hours after the 1989 shooting of Frank Salemme. Stopped with three associates in Revere, Marino was found in possession of a 9mm semi-automatic. He was convicted and spent thirty months in jail before being released in 1994. Since then, Marino had focused his efforts on shaking down local restaurant owners for protection money. Nearly two years after the rash of shootings in late 1994, Marino’s activities were about to bring retaliation from the Salemme loyalists.

     In October 1996, Frank Imprescia, a Marino associate, was wounded in the back as he sat at his desk in a law firm where he worked. The gunman fired through a front window. During the early morning hours of November 24, Salemme gunmen struck again. Marino and his driver, Charles J. McConnel, a heavy drug user who had overdosed the previous week in a Chelsea motel, arrived at the Caravan Club in Revere around 1:00 a.m. The two had been followed there and when Marino got out of the automobile, would be killers blasted away at the pair, shattering glass windows and scaring the 150 patrons inside the dance club. Marino scrambled inside, collapsing on the dance floor, bleeding heavily from a bullet wound in the buttocks.

     McConnel was wounded in the back and arm, but managed to drive a short distance to the Wonderland Ballroom where he was met by police whom he directed back to the Caravan Club to attend to Marino. Both wounded men were taken to Massachusetts General Hospital.

     Just fifteen minutes after this shooting, another Marino driver and enforcer, Robert Nogueira, was shot ten times in the parking lot of a Comfort Inn hotel in Saugus, where he was staying. He was killed instantly.

     Less than three weeks after this shooting, Marino and McConnel were arrested at Logan Airport by Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Charged with cocaine trafficking, Marino was flabbergasted that they had been caught. He was told by one of the agents that they had put a tracking device in his rear end. At his arraignment, Marino told a U. S. magistrate judge that federal agents had “implanted a microphone” in his butt during recent surgery. He then instructed family members to contact a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union.

     The day following the shooting at the Caravan Club, Jackie Salemme was in federal court answering an eight-count indictment for running a football betting gambling ring in 1993 in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

     It was now over two years since the Frank Salemme indictment and federal authorities were busy again. On April 8, 1997 they issued an 87-page, 40 count indictment charging 15 members of the “renegade faction” with 3 murders, seven murder attempts, and an additional 7 planned murders. Heading the list of those indicted was Robert Carrozza who was named as the only “made member” of those indicted.

     The grand jury testimony that resulted in the indictments was dominated by Sean Thomas Cote, who was the first of four indicted members to turn government witness. Through Cote’s testimony the authorities were able to piece together the following information about the “renegade faction’s” activities and issue murder and racketeering charges:



     Robert F. Carrozza, from his prison cell, orchestrated the activities of the “renegade faction” largely through Anthony Ciampi and Michael P. Romano, Sr.

     Michael “Gigi Portalla” Marino and Enrico M. “Rico” Ponzo were charged with the attempted murder of Salemme.

     Romano, Sr. was charged with the murder of Souza who allegedly killed Romano’s son.

     Nazzaro Ralph Scarpa, Ciampi and Cote were charged with being accessories after the fact in Souza’s murder.

     Mark F. Spisak and Ciampi were charged with the murder of Devlin and the wounding of Gillis.

     Ciampi, Romano, Ponzo and Cote were charged with the attempted murder of Joseph Cirame.

     Anthony Allan Diaz was charged with killing Paul Struzella.



     Eugene A. “Gino” Rida, Jr., John M. Arciero, Paul DeCologero, Christopher Puopolo and Leo M. “Chipper” Boffoli were hit with charges including perjury, conspiracy to murder, and attempted murder.

     Additional charges would be added before the trial began and Arciero, Boffoli, Cote and Spisak would plea-bargain and become government witnesses agreeing to testify against the others.

     The trial did not get underway until October 1998. In perhaps a bit of fate befitting the many bizarre incidents involved with the history of the “renegade faction,” Sean Cote, the government’s star witness, died of natural causes at the age of twenty-six, before he could testify. A heavy cocaine user, Cote was in the witness protection program and being held in a federal prison in Pennsylvania for safekeeping when he died of heart failure in his cell on October 19.

     Cote’s rap sheet showed more than one hundred arrests by the time he was nineteen. Faced with a life sentence, he agreed to testify about the murders and attacks for a prison term of ten to fifteen years. Prosecutors and defense attorneys sparred in the newspapers about how Cote’s death would affect the trial.

     On December 10, Marino’s attorney, Robert Sheketoff, questioned “Cadillac Frank” in hopes that the mob boss would help get his client of the hook. Sheketoff and Marino wanted Salemme to tell the court that Marino was not in the automobile full of men who blasted away at him outside the International House of Pancakes restaurant in Saugus in 1989. The ploy failed. Salemme uttered one, “I wish to invoke my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent,” and U. S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton felt assured Sheketoff would get no help and dismissed the witness.

     Leo “Chipper” Boffoli was called to testify against “Gino” Rida, Jr. The self-serving Boffoli stated that he was in the “sports betting business” with Rida, who was a high school friend of his. Boffoli claimed he tried to back out of a plan to murder Worcester drug dealer Matteo Trotto suggesting that they just threaten him. He claims Rida told him they wanted to make an example of Trotto so other drug dealers would fall in line. Boffoli also said Rida told him they were going to avenge the murder of Michael P. Romano, Jr. who was Rida’s cousin. For his cooperation and testimony Boffoli received a three-year sentence.

     In late December the case went to the jury. In addition to the three indicted turncoats, former mob members Jerry Matricia and John “Smiley” Mele also testified. In his closing arguments, defense attorney Martin Weinberg called the five men, “Career con men, deceivers and liars.” The trial had boiled down to nine members of the “renegade faction” against five former associates.

     During the three-month long trial, jurors heard testimony from 120 witnesses and saw over 300 exhibits. After nearly two weeks of deliberations the jury returned on January 12, 1999 with a disappointing verdict for the government. The jurors found Anthony Ciampi guilty of illegal gambling; Paul DeCologero and Christopher Puopolo were acquitted of all charges; the remaining defendants were acquitted on some charges, but the jury deadlocked on all others.

     The counts the jurors were unable to reach a decision on were the murder and racketeering charges. Jury members who spoke to the media after the trial claimed that the government’s case was too complex and that they did not provide sufficient evidence. The U. S. attorney’s office said the men would be retried on all the counts that the jury had deadlocked on.

     The big loser in the case appeared to be defendant Anthony Allan Diaz, who chose early on to plead guilty in the murder of Paul Struzella. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

     In June 1999, during one of the preliminary hearings for the second trial, defense attorney Sheketoff brought to Judge Gorton’s attention the incident at Logan Airport where a DEA agent had asked Marino to sign a form so they could remove a tracking device from his rear end. While the agent admitted to making the comment, he claimed in court it was a joke. Sheketoff asked Gorton to order the government to come clean on the tracking device rumor. U. S. Attorney Donald Stern issued a statement saying, “We can confirm the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration did not implant a tracking device in defendant Vincent M. “Gigi Portalla” Marino’s buttocks. We cannot speak, however, for any extraterrestrial beings. I hope this will finally put the matter behind us.”

     On November 1, 1999, just as the second trial was about to get underway, three of the defendants changed their pleas. Anthony Ciampi admitted to killing Richard Devlin and wounding Richard Gillis, and participating in several other murder attempts. Eugene Rida, Jr., the son of a retired Worcester police lieutenant, admitted to conspiring with others to kill Matteo Trotto. Rida had once told turncoat witness Boffoli that under the new regime he would be in charge of Worcester. The government dismissed six other charges against Rida, who, if convicted, would have been sent him to prison for life. The third defendant, Nazzaro Ralph Scarpa, pled guilty to the attempted murder of Salemme and to trying to kill Mark, Stephen and Ralph Rosetti. Ciampi was sentenced to eighteen years, while Rida and Scarpa were looking at ten each. The government agreed to the sentences as well as to dropping other charges in return for the pleas.

     Two days later, Michael P. Romano, Sr. entered a guilty plea less than an hour before opening statements were to begin. Romano’s agreement called for him to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the aid of racketeering, interstate travel for unlawful activity, and attempted assault. The government claimed Romano was responsible for the murder of Joseph Souza, who Romano blamed for the killing of his son. The murder charge was dismissed along with thirteen other counts, and a twenty-one year sentence was recommended for the elder Romano.

     Carrozza, who had been in prison for almost a decade, told the judge in a hearing held the previous July that he would represent himself at the new trial. Despite the efforts of Judge Gorton to persuade him not to, Carrozza remained adamant. In November he delivered his own opening statement beginning with, “I am a little nervous.” He then told the jury that he had already confessed to being a part of an “enterprise” during his 1992 trial. Carrozza stated, “Unlike some of the witnesses in this case, I accept the fact that I am guilty of crimes and accept punishment for them.” He let the jurors know that prison authorities have read his mail since 1989 and, despite the fact that all of his phone calls were monitored, the authorities had no evidence of him conspiring with any of the indicted men.

     One month into the trial, Henry D. Katz, an attorney who had represented Carrozza in 1989, and who had been working behind the scenes with government officials, worked out a plea bargain for his former client. In return for his pleading guilty to a felony charge of gambling across state lines, Carrozza had just two years added to his current sentence and was exempted from testifying or cooperating with the government. Carrozza’s scheduled release is now set for the year 2008.

     This left just two defendants from the original 1997 indictment, Vincent Marino and John J. Patti III. Ponzo, the fugitive, has yet to be tried.

     Marino’s mother and girlfriend, as well as Patti’s young wife, sat through both trials. The women visited the men weekly at the prison and drove daily to the hearings held in Worcester. Whenever questioned by the media, like good Mafia women, they proclaimed the innocence of their men. Corinne Portalla, Marino’s mother, told reporters, “He has a good heart. He loves God very much.” Mrs. Portalla, whose son Louis died of a drug overdose in 1998, was afraid of losing a second son to a long prison term.

     On December 15, prosecutors and defense attorneys delivered their closing arguments. The defense, which had not called a single witness, again attacked the government witnesses. John Mele, a convicted drug dealer who had told the jury that Marino used him to help finger Salemme at the pancake house in 1989, had been caught in at least one lie. Defense attorneys also sought to discredit Jerry Matricia, a former bookmaker, by pointing out that as a teenager he read obituaries and broke into people’s homes while they attended the funerals.

     Seven days later, the jury returned guilty verdicts against the two men. Both were convicted on two RICO counts and conspiracy to murder in aid of racketeering. Patti was also convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Because of the volume of cocaine involved, and the fact that he had a previous drug conviction, Patti was facing a life sentence. He was acquitted of attempting to murder Michael Prochilo. On April 14, 2000, Marino was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison. As of this writing, Patti has not been sentenced.

     In yet another bit of irony, the guilty verdicts, representing a victory for the FBI, came on the very day former FBI Agent John Connolly was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, racketeering, and conspiring with criminals in the marathon case against Salemme, Bulger and Flemmi.

     On February 23, 2000, after spending nearly five years in prison awaiting a trial that never materialized, Salemme made a plea bargain and was sentenced to eleven years in prison. The sixty-six year old Salemme, who found out that his two co-defendants in the case, Flemmi and Bulger, were long-time FBI informants and had used him, told U. S. District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf, “I learned my lesson. Shame on me if I didn’t know after what happened to me in the last 35 years with my best friend (Flemmi). Shame on me if it happens again.”

     Today Steve Flemmi is still in prison awaiting trial as judges, lawyers and prosecutors try to sort out an extremely difficult case. James “Whitey” Bulger is in his fifth year as a federal fugitive. Last year he was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

     During Salemme’s sentencing hearing attorney Anthony Cardinale blamed his clients woes on the FBI. Assistant U. S. Attorney Brian T. Kelly responded, “While it may be fashionable to blame the FBI for everything, there’s no evidence they were to blame here. Mr. Cardinale is becoming the Oliver Stone of the defense bar.”

     Meanwhile, Salemme’s wife Donna claimed her husband was working on a book about his life and experiences with Bulger, Flemmi and the FBI. Perhaps if the book gets turned into a movie Salemme can get Oliver Stone to direct it. It should be an epic.

Cast of Characters

Fifteen Indicted on April 8, 1997:

Carrozza, Robert F. - aka Bobby Russo   57 East Boston Pled 12-02-99
Ciampi, Anthony   33 East Boston Pled 11-01-99
DeCologero, Paul A.   38 Burlington Acquitted
Diaz, Anthony Allan   28 N. Billerica Pled 15 years
Marino, Vincent Michael - aka Gigi Portalla   35 Nahant Guilty 12-22-99
Patti III, John J.   32 East Boston Guilty 12-22-99
Ponzo, Enrico M. “Rico”   28 Boston Fugitive
Puopolo, Christopher   23 East Boston Acquitted
Rida, Jr., Eugene A. “Gino”   37 Worcester Pled 11-01-99
Romano, Sr., Michael P.   44 Wakefield Pled 11-03-99
Scarpa, Nazzaro Ralph   38 Boston Pled 11-01-99
         
Arciero, John M.   35 East Boston Gov. Witness
Boffoli, Leo M. “Chipper”   35 Holden Gov. Witness
Cote, Sean Thomas   26 Revere Died 10-19-98
Spisak, Mark F.   27 East Boston Gov. Witness
         
Killed or Wounded:        
         
Salemme, Frances P. Wounded 55   16-Jun-89
Ferrini, Howard J. Killed 53 Berkley Aug. 16, 1991
Donati, Robert A. Killed 50 Revere Sept. 24, 1991
Lazzarini, Barry Killed 45 Manomet Oct. 3, 1991
Hanrahan, Kevin Killed     Sept. 1992
Scali, Rocco Killed 46 East Boston Oct. 2, 1992
Arcieri, Vincent A. Killed 27 Orient Hts. Dec. 8, 1992
Devlin, Richard Killed 45 Brockton 31-Mar-94
Gillis, Richard Wounded 38 Chelsea 31-Mar-94
Coppola, Ronald Killed 59 Cranston 31-Mar-94
Scarpellino, Peter Killed 28 N. Providence 31-Mar-94
Romano, Jr., Michael P. Killed 20 Everett Sept. 2, 1994
Cirame, Joseph Wounded 35 Revere Sept. 16, 1994
Prochilo, Michael Shot at 44 East Boston Sept. 21, 1994
Souza, Joseph Killed 35 East Boston Oct. 20, 1994
Trotto, Matteo Wounded   Worcester Oct. 31, 1994
Struzella, Paul C. Killed 25 Revere Dec. 11, 1994
Imprescia, Frank Wounded 57 Revere Oct. 28, 1996
McConnel, Charles J. Wounded 29 East Boston Nov. 24, 1996
Marino, Vincent Michael Wounded 35 Nahant Nov. 24, 1996
Nogueira, Robert Killed   Saugus Nov. 24, 1996
         
Testified for Government:        
         
Matricia, Jerry        
Mele, John “Smiley”   29 Tewksbury  

Copyright A. R. May 2000


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