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Howie Winter indicted on extortion charges

Howie Winter, the 83-year-old former head of the notorious Winter Hill Gang, and James Melvin, 70, of Braintree, were indicted by a Middlesex grand jury Thursday on charges they attempted to extort $35,000 from two businessmen.

According to a statement from Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone’s office, the two victims told police that in November 2011, they made a loan to an attorney who had difficulty repaying the money.

Prosecutors said Winter and Melvin tried to extort $35,000 from each of the two men after telling them they had engaged in an unauthorized loan transaction, and threatened them in meetings and over the phone. Winter and Melvin allegedly made repeated references to the North End, invoking organized crime, according to prosecutors.

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A March meeting among Winter, Melvin and the victims that took place at the Sons of Italy hall in Medford was recorded by State Police, after the men contacted police.

When one victim asked if he should be worried for his safety, Melvin allegedly responded, “Yeah, yeah . . . really you should,” prosecutors said in the statement.

State Police continued to record three cash payments made over several weeks by the victims to Winter and Melvin, and prosecutors said that Winter and Melvin also allegedly demanded that the men start paying them $5,000 a month.

Winter and Melvin were arrested June 7 and arraigned on June 8 in Somerville District Court on charges of attempted extortion and conspiracy. They were released on $25,000 cash bail, ordered to stay away from the victims, wear GPS monitoring devices, surrender their passports, and remain in the state.

In June, attorneys for pair said their clients were trying to help the lawyer, who was being extorted by the two businessmen.

The Globe reported in June that attorney Peter Mullane, asked if extorting money from people who are extortionists might still be a crime, said, “You know, there’s an old saying: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

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Winter and Melvin were indicted Thursday on multiple charges of attempted extortion and conspiracy, officials said. An arraignment date in Middlesex Superior Court has not been set, according to a statement from Leone’s office.


Melissa Werthmann can be reached at melissa.werthmann@globe.com.