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    Providence remains solve 23-year-old mystery

    Steven A. Disarro
    Steven A. Disarro

    The human remains unearthed in March behind a Providence mill complex owned by a reputed mob associate were those of a South Boston nightclub manager who vanished in 1993, the FBI said Thursday night.

    The FBI said in a statement that the Rhode Island state medical examiner’s office had identified the remains as belonging to Steven A. DiSarro, a former Westwood resident who was 43 when he disappeared in May 1993. He was the former manager of the now-defunct Channel nightclub.

    “For 23 years, the family of Mr. DiSarro has been awaiting news of his whereabouts. The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the FBI are with them during this difficult time. Our investigation will continue to pursue those responsible for Mr. DiSarro’s death in an effort to bring them to justice,” said Harold H. Shaw, the FBI special agent-in-charge of the Boston office, in the statement.

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    DiSarro’s remains were found on March 31 behind a complex at 715 Branch Ave. in Providence owned by reputed mob associate William L. Ricci, after an unidentified tipster said investigators would find DiSarro there.

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    About three weeks before the discovery, Ricci, 69, pleaded guilty to allowing his property to be used for a large-scale indoor marijuana cultivation operation. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors dismissed two other charges against him.

    He remains free pending sentencing in July. His lawyer could not be reached for comment.

    DiSarro was a father of five, and on Thursday night his son Nick told the Globe that an FBI agent called the family a couple of hours earlier and told them the remains had been positively identified as those of his father.

    “We’ve waited 23 years for somebody from the FBI to call us and say we found him,” said Nick DiSarro, who was 7 when his father disappeared. “That happened today when I was at work and it was surreal.”

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    He said his family is looking forward to giving his father a proper burial, with a gravestone they can visit.

    The FBI’s investigation into DiSarro’s death, which is being handled out of the US Attorney’s office in Boston, is focusing on a number of people, including Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, according to two people familiar with the investigation. Salemme is currently in the Federal Witness Protection Program.

    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 Salemme’s ex-wife, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration report filed in federal court in Boston.

    Flemmi said Salemme and two other men were watching as Salemme’s son, Frank, strangled DiSarro. He identified those men as Francis Salemme’s younger brother John and a friend of Francis named Paul Weadick.

    Flemmi said that he quickly left the house and that Francis Salemme later confided he had helped his son dispose of DiSarro’s body at a Rhode Island construction site, the report said.

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    Working numbers for John Salemme and Weadick could not be located Thursday.

    Flemmi told authorities that Francis Salemme also said 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.

    Francis 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 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.

    By early 2009, Salemme was back in the witness protection program. Steven Boozang, an attorney for Francis Salemme, said Thursday that he “absolutely denies any involvement in Steve DiSarro’s murder.”

    Boozang called Flemmi a “serial liar” and said, “This bizarre tale that he is putting forth never happened, pure and simple.”

    Flemmi told authorities that Francis Salemmi had given him bribery money to pass to city officials so the Channel could get an entertainment license, according to the DEA report.

    In addition, Flemmi said Salemmi had expressed concerns about DiSarro’s friendship with a man cooperating with law enforcement, as well as DiSarro’s tax problems, the report said.

    Flemmi, who pleaded guilty to his role in 10 murders and is serving a life sentence, was the longtime sidekick of Bulger and was a key witness at the gangster’s 2013 trial.

    Related:

    3/30: FBI digging in R.I. for club owner’s body

    Special section: The unsolved Gardner art heist

    Special section: The ‘Whitey’ Bulger trial

    2013: Unsolved mysteries of Boston

    Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com.