Former gangster Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi testified Monday that he and James “Whitey” Bulger paid off seven FBI agents, killed several informants after they were exposed by a corrupt agent, and lied to implicate others in murders they committed.
“There was always some sort of story concocted . . . to keep the heat away from us,” Flemmi said under blistering cross-examination at the murder trial of former New England Mafia boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme.
The sordid details of the gangsters’ corrupt relationship with the FBI have emerged in previous trials related to the Bulger saga over the past two decades, but they were new to the jury in the murder case unfolding in federal court in Boston against Salemme, 84, and his codefendant, Paul Weadick, a 62-year-old plumber from Burlington.
On Monday, a defense lawyer hammered away at Flemmi’s credibility while challenging his claim that he walked in on the murder of South Boston nightclub owner Steven DiSarro decades ago.
Flemmi, 84, has testified that he dropped by Salemme’s Sharon home on May 10, 1993 and saw Salemme’s son, Frank, strangling DiSarro in the kitchen while Weadick held his legs.
He said Salemme orchestrated the murder because he and his son had a hidden interest in DiSarro’s South Boston club, the Channel, and feared he would cooperate in a federal investigation that was targeting them. Frank Salemme Jr. died in 1995 of lymphoma.
DiSarro’s remains were recovered two years ago behind an old mill in Providence, leading to the murder charges against Salemme and Weadick.
Under questioning by Weadick’s lawyer, William Crowe, Flemmi testified that he and Bulger paid at least $235,000 to former FBI agent John J. Connolly when he was their handler from 1975 to 1990. He said they also made cash payments, delivered by Connolly, to six other FBI agents.
“He was part of the gang,” Flemmi said of Connolly.
He said Connolly leaked the identities of several people who were cooperating in the 1970s and 1980s, prompting Bulger and Flemmi to kill them.
John Morris, a corrupt former FBI supervisor, admitted taking $7,000 cash from Bulger and Flemmi and was granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation. Connolly is serving 40 years in prison for leaking information to Bulger and Flemmi, who were working as his informants, that led them to orchestrate the 1982 slaying of Boston businessman John Callahan in Florida.
At the time, he said that Bulger and Flemmi suggested the murder was carried out by Cubans.
The other retired agents identified by Flemmi have vehemently denied ever receiving money from him or Bulger.
Flemmi testified Monday that he and Bulger kept an “Ex Fund,” used for various expenses, including payoffs to corrupt law enforcement officials. It was funded through criminal profits and fluctuated from about $25,000 to $150,000, he said.
When asked about gifts that he and Bulger exchanged with FBI agents in the 1980s when they wined and dined together, Flemmi said John Newton once gave them 40 pounds of C-4 explosives.
Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders, testified that he didn’t tell the government that he witnessed DiSarro’s murder until he began cooperating with authorities in 2003.
Before that, he said, “the only person I told was Jim Bulger.”
When asked if he had ever told his son, William St. Croix, that he was involved in DiSarro’s slaying, Flemmi said, “Absolutely not.”
Flemmi testified that Salemme had promised him and Bulger 10 percent of the Channel’s profits because Bulger used his “connections in South Boston” to help the club obtain a license for nude dancing. However, he never got paid and the club owed him $2,100 when it closed, he said.
After the jury left the courtroom for morning recess, Salemme stared intently at Flemmi, then turned to reporters and said, “Unbelievable.”
Flemmi is expected to resume testimony Tuesday, his fifth day on the stand.Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.