The FBI’s cynical embrace of Mark Rossetti, a reputed killer and Mafia leader used as an informant, is reminiscent of the Whitey Bulger scandal, in which the nation’s premier law enforcement agency let a gangster eliminate his competition while he whispered sweet nothings in its ear.
But if a former Wakefield man sitting in a prison in Florida is telling the truth, the Rossetti case could be history repeating itself in a different way when it comes to putting people on ice to keep a sordid FBI deal from becoming public. From his prison cell, Michael Romano says he is preparing to sue the FBI and the Justice Department for framing him in an elaborate scheme to protect informant Rossetti. Romano says the FBI’s determination to protect Rossetti not only landed him in prison, but it also got his son and namesake, Michael Romano Jr., killed in 1994. It is an outlandish tale. And maybe the most outlandish part is that some or all of it could be true.
Mike Romano is no choirboy. And he admits he was trying to find out who killed his son, Mikey. He says that just when he was getting close to figuring out who did it, the FBI and Justice Department swooped in to take him and a faction opposed to then-Mafia boss Frank Salemme off the street. Romano says, and many in law enforcement agree, that Mark Rossetti was aligned with the Salemme group, which Romano believes was responsible for his son’s death. The FBI let Rossetti and his associates shoot and kill with impunity, Romano contends. “All we did was try to protect ourselves,’’ Romano said.
But the government says Romano was part of a crew that went gunning for the Salemme crowd. That crowd would have included Rossetti, the FBI’s prized snitch. Facing charges that could have landed him in prison for the rest of his life, Romano pleaded guilty in 1999 to charges that included plotting to kill Salemme. He is scheduled to be released in 2016.
The FBI did not respond yesterday to Romano’s statements.
Romano says a key witness against him - now retired FBI agent Michael Buckley, who was Rossetti’s handler - was acting to protect Rossetti, not the public interest, when the government accused Romano of offering $15,000 to anyone who took out Salemme. “This is the Teddy Deegan case all over again,’’ said Romano. That case cost taxpayers more than $100 million, paid to four men, two of them senior members of the Mafia, who served more than 30 years in prison after the FBI framed them for the murder of smalltime hoodlum Teddy Deegan. Those men were framed to protect an FBI informant. Romano says he is going to ask for $50 million.
Now, some people will ask, why believe a convicted criminal sitting in prison who has an ax to grind against those who put him there? That’s a fair question. But the true extent of the Bulger scandal was not exposed until career criminals and killers started talking: Stevie Flemmi, Kevin Weeks, John Martorano. They literally knew where the bodies were buried.
The only way we figure out the truth is to bring Mike Romano’s charges into the light. So far, there has been nothing from the FBI or Justice Department explaining why Rossetti was maintained as an informant for decades until the Massachusetts State Police arrested him last year or why an FBI supervisor lied when asked by State Police if Rossetti was their informant.
US Representative Stephen Lynch recently met with the FBI along with staff from the offices of Representatives Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings, the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Senator Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. The FBI said it was conducting an internal inquiry and promised a follow-up meeting. If prosecutors won’t hear Mike Romano out, there are congressional investigators who are willing to listen.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.