Stephen “Stippo” Rakes, a potential witness in the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger who was found dead two weeks ago, was allegedly poisoned by a business associate who owed him money and who laced his McDonald’s iced coffee with potassium cyanide, authorities said Friday.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan said William Camuti, 69, lured Rakes to a Waltham McDonald’s with the promise of a lucrative investment deal. He allegedly ordered two iced coffees and laced one with cyanide, serving it to Rakes, prosecutors said. Camuti then allegedly drove his associate around for several hours before dumping his body in a wooded area in Lincoln near a walking path where it was found the next day.
Camuti was arrested in Boston Friday, was arraigned in Concord District Court, and pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and other charges. Judge J. Elizabeth Cremens ordered him held without bail and scheduled a dangerousness hearing for Tuesday.
Ryan said the charge could be upgraded to murder when the state medical examiner completes an autopsy. Camuti also faces charges of misleading police and unlawful disposal of human remains.
Rakes was a frequent presence at the Bulger trial. At one point, he was expected to testify against Bulger who allegedly extorted ownership of his South Boston liquor store in the 1980s.
Despite that, Ryan said, officials believe that Rakes’s killing had no connection to Bulger.
“Our evidence indicates that Mr. Camuti acted alone, and the evidence we’ve developed thus far indicates that this involved a business transaction,” she said. “The investigation showed us that Mr. Rakes and the defendant have known each other for many years and had been involved in a number of business transactions.”
According to the district attorney, Camuti owed Rakes a “significant amount of money.” Though she declined to specify how much, Ryan said the two men’s business transactions included land deals on various pieces of property, some in Middlesex County.
When Rakes spoke with Camuti July 16, Camuti asked to meet that day to discuss a potential investment property in Wilmington, the district attorney said. “Mr. Rakes was lured to this meeting on the promise of a real estate deal in which he could invest to make a significant amount of money,’’ Ryan said. “However, that deal did not, in fact, exist.”
Ryan said they met about 1:45 p.m. at a McDonald’s restaurant in Waltham. Camuti purchased two cups of iced coffee and gave Rakes one laced with two teaspoons of potassium cyanide.
The chief medical examiner’s office is still conducting an autopsy, and toxicology tests are ongoing, Ryan said.
She did not specify when Rakes died, but alleged that Camuti drove him around for several hours in Waltham, Woburn, Burlington, and Lincoln, before dumping his body in a wooded area in Lincoln where it was found the next day.
Rakes’s body was found wearing the clothes he had worn at the Bulger trial the day he disappeared.
According to a Lincoln Police Department report, Camuti told investigators in two separate interviews that he met with Rakes in the parking lot of the McDonald’s in Waltham for about 15 minutes to discuss a potential real estate deal. He told police, however, that he left directly after their meeting and did not see Rakes again.
But the GPS from Camuti’s car showed that on the night of July 16, Camuti drove to the area of 90 Mill St. in Lincoln, “where he disposed of the body,” the police report said. Lincoln police and State Police executed a series of search warrants for Camuti’s home, vehicle, cellphone, and car GPS unit, the report said.
At the press conference, Ryan said there was evidence Camuti had sought information online about acquiring cyanide. She declined to elaborate.
Camuti was arraigned Friday afternoon in Concord District Court, where the judge ordered him held without bail until Tuesday’s hearing. She also ordered that he be examined by a medical unit, but did not state why. Blue casts could be seen around both of Camuti’s cuffed wrists, peeking out under a long-sleeve shirt.
The lawyer who represented Camuti in court, Robert Saltzman, could not be reached for comment late Friday.
Prosecutors would not comment on Camuti’s criminal history, but a man of the same name and age faced federal mail fraud charges in Boston in the 1990s over a mortgage brokerage scheme, Globe archives show.
The former owner of The Loan Depot, that William Camuti was a familiar presence on television and on radio as pitchman for his company, which marketed so-called mortgage pools.
In 1993, a federal jury in Boston convicted him of 11 counts of mail fraud in connection with a program to market mortgage pools to 60 people who invested more than $3.8 million with Camuti or his companies, the Globe reported at the time.
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