Target 12

Aging mobster ‘The Rifleman' Flemmi can't identify former Mafia don in court

BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) – Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi scanned the packed courtroom but couldn't identify the man with whom he spent decades committing crimes like extortion and murder.

“I don't know where he is at,” Flemmi said, at one point looking toward the defense table where Frank Salemme was seated. “I can't see him.”

Flemmi, 83, was on the witness stand at federal court in Boston, testifying in front of a packed courtroom against Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme in a murder trial. 

Dressed in a dark green jacket, tan shirt and glasses, the notorious mobster was soft-spoken and at times hard to hear as he was asked about his lengthy underworld resume dating back to the early 1960s.

After testimony was complete for the day, Salemme turned to reporters and said, “He didn't even recognize me.”

“He's soft,” Salemme added. “He had a stroke.” (It's unclear if Flemmi had truly suffered a stroke.)

Flemmi testified he met Salemme at a bar in Roxbury in 1964, and they began working under South End gangster Edward “Wimpy” Bennett. Flemmi said he and Salemme would later take part in the murder of Bennett and his two brothers. 

Under questioning by veteran prosecutor Fred Wyshak, Flemmi calmly said “yes” as the names of 10 people he admitted to murdering were rattled off.

Flemmi recalled how he and Salemme went on the run after the pair blew up the car of attorney John Fitzgerald in 1968. Fitzgerald - who lost a leg in the blast - was representing mobster-turned-informant Joseph Barboza at the time.

Flemmi said they escaped to Illinois, then Los Angeles, and eventually made their way to New York City, staying in the apartment of a Manhattan mobster.

But Flemmi said he had to get out of there. “I didn't trust the Mafia people and I wanted to get away,” he said.

Flemmi never became a made member of La Cosa Nostra, instead aligning himself with South Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger and spilling intelligence on rival mobsters to corrupt FBI agents.

After leaving New York, Flemmi said he turned himself into police and Salemme was also arrested. But the prime witness against Flemmi was a no-show, so the charges were dropped. 

Salemme wasn't so lucky, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1973.

During that time, Flemmi said he helped out Salemme's wife by sending payments to her and interceding with North End gangsters when she was needed help, including getting a new washing machine when hers broke down.

For nearly two hours, Flemmi took jurors through his mob past, but his testimony never got to the case at hand: the 1993 slaying of Boston nightclub owner and Providence native Steven DiSarro.

Salemme and codefendant Paul Weadick are accused of killing DiSarro, along with Salemme's son Frank Jr., who died of lymphoma in 1995.

Salemme and Weadick have pleaded not guilty.

Outside court, Salemme's attorney Steven Boozang said Flemmi is “sly as a fox.”

“He didn't lose anything off his fastball,” Boozang said. “They go back a long time.”

Boozang said that “in Frank's mind, Flemmi doesn't exist.”

“He has no feelings one way or the other for the guy, he doesn't hold an animosity toward him,” Boozang added. “Flemmi is looking to get out - this is his last hurrah.”

Flemmi has been in prison since 1995 and has been sentenced to multiple life sentences after pleading guilty in multiple cases, including for murder and extortion.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.


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