Former New England mafia boss Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme has been "no angel" but played no role in the 1993 killing of a nightclub owner, the aging's mobster's attorney told jurors Wednesday at the opening of his high-profile murder trial.
Salemme, who led the New England family of La Cosa Nostra in the early 1990s, is accused of arranging the killing of Steven DiSarro to keep him from cooperating with authorities. DiSarro's body wasn't found until 2016 when it was dug up behind a mill building in Providence.
Salemme's lawyer told jurors during his opening statement that the 84-year-old Salemme has admitted to participating in slayings and other crimes during his mafia days but has long denied having anything to do with DiSarro's death.
"Just because he has done those bad things doesn't mean that he has done this," attorney Steven Boozang said.
Another mobster - Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi - will testify that he saw Salemme's son's arm around DiSarro's neck while Salemme's co-defendant, Paul Weadick, held DiSarro's feet, and Salemme stood by, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak said. Salemme's son died in 1995.
DiSarro's nightclub, The Channel, was under close scrutiny at the time for Salemme's involvement in the business. Just before DiSarro was killed, federal authorities told DiSarro he was about to be indicted and should work with them against the Salemmes.
"The Channel was under a microscope, and Frank Salemme wasn't going to lose it all ... so what did he do? He had Steven DiSarro murdered," said Wyshak, who also prosecuted gang boss James "Whitey" Bulger after his 2011 arrest.
Salemme, who wore a baggy grey suit with his thinning grey hair slicked back, looked frail as he walked to the table to meet his lawyers before the trial began. He's been behind bars since he was arrested in 2016 and has spent the last several decades in and out of trouble with authorities.
Salemme was charged in 1995 with participating in eight murders but agreed to plead guilty in 1999 to racketeering and extortion and cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence.
He began cooperating with authorities that year in an investigation into the FBI's corrupt relationship with Bulger and Flemmi, who also were working as FBI informants providing information about the mafia. In exchange for his cooperation, Salemme's sentence was reduced to eight years, and he later entered the witness protection program.
Salemme testified in 2002 against former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr., who was accused of tipping off Bulger and one of his lieutenants about an impending indictment.
Salemme pleaded guilty in 2008 to obstruction of justice and making false statements for trying to mislead investigators about DiSarro's death. He admitted he lied to authorities when he said he believed another former mafia leader may have been involved in the killing, but he insisted he had nothing to do with DiSarro's death himself.