BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) – Thomas Hillary said the Patriarcas took him in and treated him “like family,” but he could never be a made member of La Cosa Nostra.
“I wasn’t Italian,” he said during testimony Thursday in the trial of former mob boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme and codefendant Paul Weadick.
Hillary, 73, now has a new identity after being entered into the Federal Witness Protection Program in 1994.
Growing up in Providence, Hillary met Raymond “Junior” Patriarca when he was 12 years old, and knew exactly who his dad was. Raymond L.S. Patriarca ran the New England mob from the 1950s until his death in 1984.
“I knew him to be the boss,” Hillary said.
Despite his heritage, Hillary’s star rose in the New England crime family because of his close relationship with the Patriarcas. Rhode Island gangster Robert “Bobby” DeLuca – who would later be inducted into the crime family and become a capo – was Hillary’s best man at his wedding in 1976. As an associate of the crime family, Hillary was heavily involved in criminal activity.
“If you had union problems we’d straighten it out,” Hillary said. “We did hijackings, shakedowns – it was like out of the movies.”
In 1984, after Patriarca died of a heart attack and his son took over as boss, Hillary was given an important assignment: take care of Salemme.
Hillary said Junior Patriarca “asked us to take care of him – he just got out the can” after 16 years behind bars, and needed help making money.
Hillary was happy to oblige, and it turned into high times for the crew, making a lot of money and growing in underworld influence, he said.
Hillary described how they would sell fake marijuana to buyers. When asked what would happen when the buyer found out the pot was bad, Hillary said, “Who cares?”
“What’s he going to do, come after us?” he asked. “We were made guys.”
Hillary testified that he ultimately introduced Salemme, the future mob boss, to Steven DiSarro, a childhood friend from Providence.
DiSarro “was my friend and a good, good guy,” Hillary said. “He was like a kid brother.”
But the introduction may have ultimately proved fatal for DiSarro. Prosecutors say Salemme, his son Frank Salemme Jr. (who died of natural causes in 1995) and Weadick murdered DiSarro because they feared he was going to cooperate with the FBI.
DiSarro was last seen on May 10, 1993. His body was exhumed from behind a mill building on Branch Avenue in Providence in March 2016.
Hillary testified that he, along with Salemme and Salemme’s son, got involved in DiSarro’s nightclub The Channel. Hillary said he was on the payroll but didn’t actually do any work.
“It was a cash cow,” he said.
But then things started to go badly for Hillary, and in the fall of 1990, he sensed he was on the outs with the crew. He said it all came to a head one day when Frank Salemme Jr. grabbed him by the throat and threatened to kill him “bada bing bada boom, get out of town.” Hillary claimed it was over a dispute about $4,000.
“I went on the lam, I took off,” Hillary said. “Because I know I got a problem here, so I went to Florida.”
Hillary was a colorful witness, using phrases like “badda boom badda bing” and sprinkling expletives throughout his testimony. He said the falling-out with the Salemmes still “aggravated” him today and, he had to apologize to the judge for “getting all worked up.”
Hillary repeatedly sparred with Salemme’s attorney, Steven Boozang, and the judge had to intercede. Boozang asked if he only served one year in jail despite all the crimes he testified to committing.
“That’s correct,” Hillary said.
Boozang pressed HIllary on whether he and his family earned more than $600,000 from the federal government while in the relocation program. Hillary pushed back saying he didn’t know.
“I’m not an accountant,” he snapped.
Both Salemme and Weadick have pleaded not guilty. The trial began on Wednesday at federal court in Boston.
On Friday, jurors will be visiting Salemme’s former home in Sharon, Massachusetts, where investigators say the DiSarro murder took place, as well as the mill building on Branch Avenue in Providence.