Louie Greco died in prison, an innocent man, because he punched Nicky Femia in the mouth.
Greco had warned Femia, a gangster and legbreaker, to stop loaning money to teenagers so they could run up gambling debts they had no way of paying. Femia ignored him. One day, after Greco saw Femia peeling off bills for some kid in East Boston who couldn’t rub two nickels together, Greco walked over and popped Femia in the mouth.
Joe Barboza, Femia’s friend, got even by putting Greco in the middle of a murder he had nothing to do with. It wasn’t just Greco. Barboza, a contract killer and FBI snitch, implicated three other innocent men in the 1965 murder of a hoodlum named Teddy Deegan. One of them, Joe Salvati, was thrown in the mix simply because Barboza didn’t like him. The others, Peter Limone and Henry Tameleo, were two-fers because the FBI considered them high-ranking Mafiosi.
It took more than 30 years for Barboza’s and the FBI’s lies to be exposed to such an extent that the case against the four men was conclusively shown to be the frame-up it was. Salvati and Limone hugged their families.
Tameleo and Greco couldn’t celebrate their vindication because they were long dead. Tameleo died in prison in 1985, when he was 84. Greco died in prison in 1995, when he was 78.
So, that’s it?
Mike Albano was elected to the Governor’s Council a couple of weeks ago, and won’t take office until January. But he has already begun working on securing a posthumous pardon for Louie Greco and Henry Tameleo.
There’s some history there. In 1983, when he was a member of the state Parole Board, Albano indicated that he was sympathetic to the framed men.
A pair of FBI agents named John Connolly and John Morris showed up at his office and suggested that his concern for such people would be detrimental to his political career.
Now that was rich, because at the same time they were trying to intimidate Albano, those two FBI agents were busy protecting a pair of murderous FBI informants named Whitey Bulger and Steve Flemmi.
“For me,” Albano said of his efforts on behalf of Tameleo and Greco, “this will complete the cycle.”
Albano is prepared for those who will argue, especially regarding Tameleo, that pardons should not be given to criminals. Tameleo was widely regarded as the consigliere of the New England Mafia family led by Raymond L.S. Patriarca.
“People, especially in law enforcement, will say, ‘Well, if he didn’t do this crime, he did some other crime,’ ’’ Albano said. “That’s precisely the attitude that led to such a travesty of justice in this case. We can’t prosecute and imprison people on reputation. Once we go down that road, we’re not the society we say we are.”
Posthumous gubernatorial pardons in Massachusetts are extremely rare. Albano could find only two cases, both of them made by Governor Michael Dukakis: Irish immigrants Dominic Daley and James Halligan were hanged in 1806 for killing a man in Wilbraham and pardoned in 1984; Italian immigrants Bartolomeo Sacco and Nicola Vanzetti were electrocuted in 1927 for robbing and killing two men in Braintree and pardoned in 1977.
There’s some history there, too. Sacco and Vanzetti was the first big “red scare” case for an ambitious young Justice Department man named J. Edgar Hoover. Fifty years later, Hoover was running the FBI, and his obsession was not Italian anarchists but Italian gangsters, so the FBI had no problem lying as four innocent men with vowels on the end of their names went to prison for killing Teddy Deegan.
This is a no-brainer.
Governor Deval Patrick should pardon Louie Greco and Henry Tameleo. Greco and Tameleo are dead, but the truth is very much alive.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.