Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Appeal Heard for FBI Agent Convicted of Aiding Whitey Bulger

A lawyer for retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. urged a federal appeals court today to overturn his 2002 racketeering conviction because one of the government's key witnesses, former New England Mafia boss Francis "Cadillac Frank'' Salemme, allegedly boasted to a fellow mobster that he lied on the stand.

Judge Bruce M. Selya questioned the events described by Connolly's lawyer, suggesting that Salemme may have told the truth in court and then lied to Philadelphia mobster Roger Vella when the two of them were imprisoned together later.

"We have a Mafia don who is committing the worst crime a Mafia don can ... he rats out and cooperates with the feds,'' said Selya, one of three judges on the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit considering Connolly's case. "Why isn't it the most natural thing for him to try to explain away his cooperation?''

Braintree attorney Terrance J. McCarthy, who represents Connolly, argued that Salemme "had every reason to tell Vella the truth'' when he claimed prosecutors helped him shape his story to win a conviction because he didn't know Vella was a confidential informant and would later report the boasts to the FBI.

Connolly is serving 10 years in prison. He was convicted of racketeering, obstruction of justice, and lying to an FBI agent for protecting longtime informants James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman'' Flemmi from prosecution and leaking them information. He's also scheduled to stand trial in Miami in March for a 1982 gangland slaying.

Salemme, who had been granted immunity for his testimony at Connolly's trial, was indicted in 2004 on a charge of lying to investigators by withholding information about the 1993 disappearance of South Boston nightclub manager Steven DiSarro. Federal prosecutors allege Salemme witnessed DiSarro's slaying and helped bury his body, and he is awaiting trial in that case.

"Doesn't that cloud the picture a bit?" said Circuit Judge Kermit V. Lipez, questioning the government today about why any of Salemme's testimony at Connolly's trial should be believed, given that he's now awaiting trial for lying.

US Special Attorney William J. Nardini said Salemme allegedly lied about his involvement in DiSarro's slaying to protect other organized-crime figures. He argued that Salemme's statements to Vella -- including claims that the government promised him $500,000 for his testimony and a condo on a golf course -- were "pretty absurd.''

Thanks to Shelley Murphy

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