Former New England Mafia boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme was placed in the federal witness protection program a decade ago after testifying against a corrupt ex-FBI agent, but refused to give up information about a half-dozen murders in the 1980s and 1990s even though he was promised immunity.
On Thursday, that decision came back to haunt Salemme as he was arraigned in US District Court in Boston for the 1993 slaying of South Boston nightclub owner Steven DiSarro and it was revealed that one of his longtime allies in the Mafia is cooperating against him in the case.
Rhode Island mobster Robert “Bobby” DeLuca began cooperating with authorities in June after he was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and making false statements for allegedly denying any knowledge about DiSarro’s disappearance, according to testimony by a Massachusetts state trooper.
DeLuca told investigators that he and his brother helped Salemme dispose of DiSarro’s body in Providence after Salemme’s late son and an associate, Paul Weadick, strangled him, according to the trooper, John Fanning.
Salemme, 83, who had been living in Atlanta with a new identity until his arrest last month, pleaded not guilty Thursday to DiSarro’s murder. He is being held without bail.
After the hearing, Salemme’s attorney, Steven Boozang, said Salemme had nothing to do with the slaying and was charged because people “got themselves jammed up and in trouble and now they are pointing the finger at Frank Salemme.”
Weadick, a 61-year-old plumber from Burlington who was indicted for DiSarro’s murder along with Salemme, pleaded not guilty last week.
During a hearing Thursday, Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak argued that Weadick should be held without bail because he is “a violent individual,” with ties to high-profile Mafia figures who could help him intimidate witnesses or flee.
Weadick’s attorney, Carmine Lepore, described him as a family man who has worked as a plumber and maintenance man for a real estate company for the past 15 years. He said Weadick has not been in trouble since he was released from prison in 1989 after serving seven years for manslaughter.
Weadick pleaded guilty to manslaughter for the 1982 death of Joseph Mistretta, who was shot inside Weadick’s home and stuffed in the trunk of a car. At the time, police said they found Weadick on his hands and knees, wiping blood off the living room floor. A friend of Weadick’s was convicted of shooting Mistretta.
US Magistrate Judge Donald Cabell took Weadick’s bail request under advisement.
Salemme and Weadick are charged with killing DiSarro, 43, of Westwood, to prevent him from being a witness in a federal investigation that was targeting Salemme and his son, Frank.
The indictment alleges that Salemme and his son, who died in 1995, had a hidden interest in The Channel, a now-defunct nightclub acquired by DiSarro in the early 1990s.
DiSarro vanished on May 10, 1993. The FBI and state investigators, acting on a tip, discovered his remains in March, buried in a Providence lot.
Fanning, who filed an affidavit urging the court to deny bail for Weadick, testified Thursday that DeLuca told investigators that Salemme warned him in 1993 that he suspected DiSarro was stealing from The Channel and cooperating with federal law enforcement.
DeLuca said he advised Salemme “to get rid of him.”
A week or so later, DeLuca said, Salemme sent him a coded message on his pager telling him to dig a hole because he was going to deliver a “package’ to him.
DeLuca said his brother, Joseph DeLuca retrieved DiSarro’s body from Salemme and buried it, according to Fanning. Later, according to DeLuca, Salemme confided that his son had strangled DiSarro, while Weadick held his legs, Fanning said.
Fanning also testified that DeLuca said Salemme told him that Weadick, who worked at The Channel, was questioned by police after DiSarro disappeared, but they did not have to worry about him talking because, “He’s a standup guy.”
DeLuca’s statements bolster an account of DiSarro’s slaying given to authorities in 2003 by gangster Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi.
Salemme was indicted with Flemmi and James “Whitey” Bulger on federal racketeering charges in 1995. After learning the pair were informants, he testified against their former handler, retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr.
Salemme also admitted he participated in eight murders in the 1960s, but prosecutors said he failed to help solve at least half a dozen murders allegedly committed by his Mafia underlings.
Salemme was kicked out of the witness protection program in 2004 and charged with lying about DiSarro’s slaying. He pleaded guilty, served five years in prison, and was allowed back into the program after his release.
John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.