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FBI finds human remains at dig site in Providence

A state medical examiner at a site near Branch Avenue and Woodward Road in Providence.
A state medical examiner at a site near Branch Avenue and Woodward Road in Providence.(Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

PROVIDENCE — Investigators unearthed human remains Thursday after three days of digging in an area behind an old mill building where a tipster claimed they would find the body of a South Boston nightclub manager who vanished in 1993.

Harold H. Shaw, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, released a statement saying that human remains buried behind a building at 715 Branch Ave. were recovered in the afternoon by the FBI’s evidence response team, with assistance from Providence police and the Rhode Island State Police.

The remains were turned over to the Rhode Island state medical examiner’s office for testing and DNA analysis, he said.

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Authorities have not said who they were searching for, but two people familiar with the investigation said authorities received a tip that Steven A. DiSarro, 43, of Westwood, was buried on the property owned by a reputed Mafia associate who pleaded guilty in March to a federal drug charge.

“The FBI has been in contact with our regional law enforcement partners relative to unsolved cases and disappearances,” Shaw said. “Due to the fact that this is an ongoing investigation, we do not anticipate the release of any additional information at this time.”

A state medical examiner’s truck left the scene at Branch Avenue and Woodward Road about 4 p.m.

The property owner, William L. Ricci, 69, remains free pending his sentencing on the drug charge in May. He has pleaded guilty to allowing his property to be used for a large-scale indoor marijuana cultivation operation, and as part of a plea agreement prosecutors dismissed two other charges against him.

A man who answered the phone at a number listed for Ricci declined to comment Thursday.

“You’re lookin’ for my son. We got nothing to do with that piece of property,” the man said.

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A lawyer for Ricci could not be reached for comment.

Notorious gangster Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi told federal and state authorities in 2003 that he walked in on the murder of DiSarro on May 10, 1993, at the Sharon, Mass., home of former New England Mafia boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration report filed in federal court in Boston.

Flemmi said that Salemme and two other men were watching as Salemme’s son, Frank, strangled DiSarro, the manager of the now defunct Channel nightclub. Flemmi said that he quickly left the house, then later the elder Salemme confided that he had helped his son dispose of DiSarro’s body at a Rhode Island construction site, according to the report.

Flemmi told authorities that Salemme also told him that Rhode Island mobster Robert DeLuca “was present during the burial” of DiSarro, according to the report. An FBI affidavit filed in support of Ricci’s arrest last year described him as a longstanding Mafia associate who was close to DeLuca.

Steven A. DiSarro.
Steven A. DiSarro.(BOSTON GLOBE FILE PHOTO)

Salemme’s son died in 1995. By the time Flemmi implicated the elder Salemme in DiSarro’s slaying, the former Mafia don was already in the Federal Witness Protection Program for cooperating with the prosecution of South Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger and his corrupt FBI handler, John J. Connolly Jr.

Salemme was kicked out of the program in 2004 when he was indicted on federal charges of lying and obstruction of justice for previously denying any knowledge about DiSarro’s slaying. He later pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to five years, but denied the allegations that he was present when DiSarro was killed and helped dispose of his body.

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By early 2009, Salemme was back in the witness protection program.

Steven Boozang, an attorney for Salemme, said Thursday that he did not want to comment out of respect for DiSarro’s family.

DiSarro, who was married with young children, was reported missing by his wife in May 1993.

Later, Flemmi told investigators that Salemme and his son decided to kill DiSarro because they knew they were under federal investigation and feared he might cooperate with law enforcement against them, according to the report.

The Salemmes had a hidden interest in the Channel, according to authorities.

Investigators began digging behind the Branch Avenue property Tuesday morning and spent three days searching the site, using a backhoe, canines, and shovels.


Travis Andersen can be reached at Travis.Andersen@globe.com. Shelley Murphy can be reached atshmurphy@globe.com.