Framed by the feds
July 28, 2007
IN 1968, FBI agents in Boston framed Joseph Salvati, Peter Limone, Louis Greco, and Henry Tameleo for a mob-related murder they didn't commit and rubbed out any chance the men might have had to pursue even a semblance of normal life. This week, US District Judge Nancy Gertner did what she could to make them whole when she ordered the government to pay $101.7 million to the wrongfully imprisoned men and their families.
Gertner could barely hide her contempt for the government's claim that the FBI had no duty to tell state prosecutors that a key witness in the case, Joseph "The Animal" Barboza, had falsely implicated the four men while protecting one of the true killers, FBI informant Vincent Flemmi. Gertner called the government's position "absurd." The question now is whether the US Justice Department will drag out its clown show by either pursuing an appeal or attempting to whittle down the judgment, which may be a record award for a suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
If federal law enforcement has learned anything from this case, they will apologize to the parties and pay the judgment.
In the 1960s, corruption oozed out of the Boston FBI office. It was the perfect operating environment for former FBI agents Dennis Condon and H. Paul Rico, who cared more about collecting informants than solving crimes. In these cases, and cases to follow in the 1970s and '80s, FBI agents would prove to be without conscience when it came to cutting bargains with criminals and covering their tracks. Former FBI agent John Connolly was a product of this toxic culture. In 2002, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for protecting two mobsters, including fugitive mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, who is a suspect in 19 murders.
The public is under no illusion that the four wronged men were choirboys. Tameleo and Limone were alleged members of the mob. Salvati and Greco were known to police. But the only relevant point is that the men spent decades in prison for a crime they didn't commit, and all because the FBI deliberately withheld evidence and covered up the injustice. And vindication came too late for Tameleo and Greco, who died behind bars in 1985 and 1995, respectively.
There is some comfort in knowing that the Boston breakdown led to new guidelines for federal law enforcement agencies on the handling of informants. And it should also be noted that the exculpatory evidence supporting Gertner's judgment was uncovered in 2000 by a diligent FBI task force working to trace the corruption in the Boston office. As required of sworn agents, they quickly turned over the material to defense attorneys.
The sad part is that such an honest act would be noteworthy at all.
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