BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) – Steven DiSarro, a Boston businessman and Providence native, “got too close” to Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme and paid the ultimate price, prosecutors told jurors Wednesday in opening statements of a high-profile mob murder trial.
Salemme, 84, the former boss of the New England mob, and codefendant Paul Weadick are on trial, each charged with one count of murder of a witness for the 1993 slaying of DiSarro.
Dressed in a gray suit and blue tie, and looking thin, Salemme was brought into a federal courtroom in Boston in a wheelchair, but he stood and walked the short distance to the defense table.
After getting instructions from U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs, a jury of 10 women and eight men heard from Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak, who laid out the narrative that led up to DiSarro’s death and what prompted the case to be reignited a quarter-century later.
Several Rhode Island names will be front and center in the trial.
Set to testify is longtime mob capo – and former Salemme confident – Robert “Bobby” DeLuca, his brother Joseph, associate and former mill building owner William Ricci, as well as associate Thomas Hillary. Wyshak said Hillary was close friends with Raymond “Junior” Patriarca and brought DiSarro into Salemme’s world. In addition, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ferland – a veteran Rhode Island prosecutor – is part of the government’s team.
Wyshak told jurors that DiSarro “became enmeshed in the world of organized crime.”
“He became too close to Frank Salemme and Frank Salemme Jr.,” Wyshak said.
Prosecutors say Salemme Jr. – who has since died of natural causes – strangled DiSarro in May 1993 while Weadick held down his legs. The elder Salemme was there, Wyshak said.
Three days before the murder, Wyshak said DiSarro was drunk inside the Boston nightclub he owned, The Channel, and talking to his step brother Roland Wheeler.
“He had been summoned to see ‘the big guy,’ Frank Salemme,” Wyshak said.
DiSarro was brought to the Salemmes’ home in Sharon, Massachusetts, where he was killed.
Infamous mobster Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, one of Salemme’s close friends, allegedly walked in on the murder.
“Frank Salemme Jr. and Paul Weadick struggling with Mr. DiSarro,” Wyshak said. “He saw Frank Salemme Jr. holding Steve DiSarro around the neck, [and] he saw Paul Weadick lifting Mr. DiSarro’s feet off the ground.”
“He told Salemme, ‘I’ll see you later,'” and left, according to Wyshak.
Prosecutors said Salemme Jr. had became a silent partner in DiSarro’s nightclub when the businessman came under the microscope of the FBI.
“The motive of this murder was clear: Mr. Salemme was protecting himself and protecting his son,” Wyshak said. “Mr. Weadick was a willing participant in the murder.”
In separate opening statements, defense attorneys for both Salemme and Weadick told the jury the government’s witnesses cannot be trusted.
“Both Mr. Flemmi and Mr. DeLuca are very accomplished liars with a history of lying, with a history of being convicted of lying,” Weadick’s lawyer, William Crowe, told the jurors. “Mr. Flemmi and Mr. DeLuca are very experienced in working the judicial system.”
“When they get caught, they don’t just disregard their survival instinct – they do whatever is best for them,” he added.
Salemme’s attorney, Steven Boozang, admitted his client has “been no angel.”
“He grew up in a different era when there were gangland slayings,” Boozang said. “It was a little bit of kill or be killed back then.”
But, he added, “just because he’s done bad things doesn’t mean he’s done this. … He’s presumed innocent.”
It doesn’t appear the two defense strategies will be unified at trial. Crowe told the jury that most of the evidence will point not to Weadick, but to Salemme.
“There will be no evidence that Mr. Weadick did anything,” Crowe said. “Other than continue to go to his job as a plumber and live his life in Burlington, Massachusetts.”
Boozang said it makes no sense for Salemme to have committed the crime because he had an opportunity years ago to admit his role in the crime when he pleaded guilty in a different case.
“All he has to say is he did it and he gets a pass,” Boozang said.
Crowe also poked holes in the credibility of DeLuca’s upcoming testimony, quoting from a Rhode Island grand jury transcript in which Crowe said DeLuca admitted, “I would say I have done a lot of lying.”
Crowe asked the jury not to jump to conclusions before weighing all the evidence.
The first witness to take the stand was Steven DiSarro’s widow, Pamela, who said she remembers that the day before her husband disappeared, the two fought over a trip he said he had to go on but didn’t want her to join.
“It was not a pleasant day,” Pamela DiSarro said.
Under cross examination, Pamela DiSarro said her husband was friendly with several organized crime figures from Rhode Island at the time. She also said her husband told her he was under investigation by the FBI for his business dealings.
Shortly before his murder, DiSarro told his wife the FBI pulled him over on the highway and urged him to cooperate.
Jurors are expected to visit Salemme’s former home in Sharon as well as the mill building on Branch Avenue in Providence, where DiSarro was exhumed, on Friday.