U.S. Lets $101 Million Verdict Stand Over FBI Frame in Mob Slaying Case

Solicitor General Elena Kagan has let the time pass for appealing (seeking Supreme Court review) of a historic $101 million verdict for civil rights violations in a lawsuit against the FBI for framing four men from Boston for a mob slaying. The government will pay up.

Josesph Salvati, now 77, served 29 years in prison. He will get $31 million, plus another $2 million in interest.

DOJ tried to get Kagan to seek review but she refused, siding with the wrongfully convicted men. The verdict was rendered by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner, following a 22 day bench trial. [More....]

In a dramatic ruling on July 26, 2007, Gertner found the FBI “responsible for the framing of four innocent men’’ in the 1965 murder of a small-time criminal, Edward “Teddy’’ Deegan, in a Chelsea alley.

She concluded after a 22-day bench trial that the FBI deliberately withheld evidence of the four men’s innocence and helped conceal the injustice for decades.

The other men are Peter J. Limone of Medford and the families of Louis Greco and Henry Tameleo, who died in prison after serving decades of their sentences. Their convictions were set aside posthumously.

This case is especially outrageous because the FBI knew the real killer likely was one of their informants, Vincent “Jimmy the Bear" Flemmi, and allowed another informant to frame the four innocent men, even though they believed he was lying to protect Flemmi. There is a lot of evidence the FBI knew Flemmi intended to make the hit days before it happened and still accepted him as an informant two days before Flemmi killed Deegan.

On March 10, 1965 H. Paul Rico filed a report quoting an informant as saying that Vincent was going to murder Edward Deegan and that a "dry run has already been made and that a close associate of Deegan's has agreed to set him up." Two days later, despite their knowledge of the impending murder of Deegan, the Boston FBI office approved Vincent as an informant and assigned him to the agent who had recruited him, H. Paul Rico.

And that the night of the hit, the FBI had pictures of the shooters and still allowed the four innocent men to be charged.

Judge Gertner found the FBI protected their informants to keep getting info on the mob. Our first post on the case was in 2002, and all are accessible here and here. TChris had a great post here.

Flemmi died of a heroin overdose in prison in 1979 while serving a sentence related to another murder.

Another twist: Flemmi's brother was Stephen Flemmi, also a member of Boston's Winter Hill Mob and an FBI informant. In 2004, the FBI agent who reported Jimmy did the Boston hit, H. Paul Rico, retired and aged 78, was charged in a 20 year old Tulsa murder case. The hit was allegedly committed by Stephen Flemmi and another informant from the gang, who had been working for Rico at the time. Rico was arrested in Miami, extradited to Tulsa where he arrived in very bad shape (practically incoherent and in a wheelchair) and his lawyer said he had been attacked while in the Miami jail awaiting extradition. He had a bad heart. His lawyer asked for bail.

Tulsa prosecutors pooh-poohed the beating claim, and argued he was probably bruised from his medication. The judge put the case on hold, ordered Rico held pending a psych evaluation to determine if he was fit to stand trial. A few hours later, Rico was dead.

Ultimately, two of the three informants charged in the Tulsa case pleaded guilty.(The third is still a fugitive.) One was Stephen Flemmi, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges related to 10 murders, not just the Tulsa one. In a package deal, he got life. The DOJ announcement is here.

The second FBI informant who pleaded guilty to carrying out the Tulsa murder (and 19 others), got 15 years and served 12 before being released. Then, the pair cooperated again, testifying against FBI Agent John Connolly who was charged in another murder case. Connolly insisted he was innocent. What did Flemmi get for saying otherwise? It's not clear, but he's in the witness protection protection at whatever prison he's in. Maybe conditions are nicer there. He's now 76.

Connolly got 40 years, on top of 10 for racketeering, which he is now serving. (Even though the statute of limitations had expired for Murder 2, the crime he was convicted of, another bizarre twist to this tale.)

Snitching is a dirty business and as these three cases show, it's not just the snitches who are morally bankrupt, the whole system is infected. And we, the taxpayers, will be footing the $101 million bill our government pays to the four framed men (and yes, they totally deserve the money.) Too bad jurors don't get to hear about these cases when prosecutors justify their snitch testimony with trite lines like "Crimes committed in hell don't have angels as witnesses." The truth is more like "Lie down with dogs and get up with fleas."

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    If I understand the story correctly, (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Peter G on Sun May 02, 2010 at 12:40:22 PM EST
    the Dept of Justice did appeal the $101 million verdict.  That decision was made during the Bush administration.  The court of appeals upheld the verdict, and rejected the government's appeal in August 2009.  The deadline that was just now let pass was to seek final review in the Supreme Court.  This was a good call by Solicitor General Kagan (not "Kagen"), but not a very surprising one.  (One of the SG's jobs within the Justice Dept. is to select the cases that the government will appeal after losing, and then to decide how far to take those appeals.)  To choose to take the case before the Supreme Court, the SG would have to believe there was an important legal principle that the lower courts got wrong.  By the time the truth came out at the trial in 2007 before Judge Gertner in Massachusetts, the only issue was how much money should be awarded to the frame-up victims and their families.  That's not the sort of thing the Supreme Court would be expected to second-guess.

    yes. The action Kagan (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Sun May 02, 2010 at 06:18:29 PM EST
    refused to take was seeking Supreme Court review of the judgment. DOJ wanted her to but she didn't, letting the time limit pass.

    I think most people think of seeking Supreme court review as another step in the appeals process (even I do) so I wrote it up that way. But I just added it to the first paragraph to make it clearer. (And fixed the name-spelling, thanks!)


    A little odd to say that "the DOJ" (none / 0) (#6)
    by Peter G on Sun May 02, 2010 at 07:00:28 PM EST
    wanted her to pursue the case all the way.  After all, the Solicitor General is the third-ranking officer of the Dept of Justice.  Some of her underlings may have wanted that, and recommended it to her, but what "the DOJ" wants is what the SG decides (unless the Attorney General or the President intervenes, I suppose), because that's her job and responsibility to determine.

    Shades of (none / 0) (#2)
    by Zorba on Sun May 02, 2010 at 12:50:41 PM EST
    The Departed.  The "good" guys are bad guys and the "bad" guys are (sort of, although not really- I'm not fond of informants; at least, not of this kind) "good" guys.  Paging Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio to star in the film about this.

    adversarial system? (none / 0) (#3)
    by diogenes on Sun May 02, 2010 at 05:32:39 PM EST
    Isn't it the government lawyer's job to advocate for the government and try to appeal to reverse this or get a lower settlement?  Shouldn't a lawyer serve his or her client's interests?  Next you'll say that you won't appeal Polanski's case because "he's guilty anyway".

    No, actually (5.00 / 0) (#5)
    by Peter G on Sun May 02, 2010 at 06:56:47 PM EST
    The duty of the Department of Justice is more complex than that of any other lawyers.  Inscribed over the door to the Attorney General's office is this slogan, sometimes forgotten by individual prosecutors: "The United States wins a case whenever justice is done one of its citizens in the courts."  The Department's motto, translated from Latin, is "Who prosecutes in the name of the Lady Justice."  A private attorney's duty is to serve the interests of the particular client, within the bounds of the law.  The government's duty is different.

    Is one hundred million dollars just? (none / 0) (#7)
    by diogenes on Mon May 03, 2010 at 05:26:56 PM EST
    Is adding one hundred one million dollars of taxpayer money to the national debt just, or should there have been an appeal to try to lower the amount and/or get a lower amount in a settlement?