They were incognito: One witness had a brown wig and a bushy gray beard and wore a dark suit that was a little too big. The other one had long red hair pulled back in a ponytail and a receding hairline that didn’t look real. Both men had noses that appeared cosmetically reshaped.
In an unusual move, two inspectors for the US Marshals Service underwent a makeover before they took the stand Wednesday at the murder trial of former New England Mafia boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme and Paul Weadick, a 62-year-old plumber from Burlington.
They also testified under pseudonyms — Douglas and Smith.
The measures were approved by US District Judge Allison Burroughs after prosecutors argued that identifying the two inspectors could “seriously jeopardize” them and those they protect because they handle people who have been relocated through the federal witness protection program.
Salemme, 84, was placed in the federal witness protection program after cooperating against a corrupt FBI agent. He had been living in Atlanta under the name Richard Parker just before his arrest two years ago for the 1993 slaying of South Boston nightclub owner Steven DiSarro.
On Wednesday, the inspector testifying under the name John Douglas said Salemme seemed suspicious when he asked him for his passport in May 2016 — the same month that DiSarro’s remains were recovered, buried behind an old mill in Providence.
Douglas said Salemme “asked if they were afraid I was going to take off,” but Douglas assured him they were not.
However, Douglas said, when he asked Salemme for a key to his apartment two months later, Salemme turned over the key and disappeared without telling him where he was going.
Douglas said Salemme didn’t return his calls, and a maintenance worker at Salemme’s apartment complex said Salemme “told him he went out of town for surgery, that his cancer had returned and he didn’t think he was going to make it.”
However, in August 2016, the agency tracked Salemme to a Hampton Inn in Milford, Conn., where had registered under the same name he’d been using in the witness protection program, according to the second inspector. He was arrested and charged with killing DiSarro.
The second inspector, whose pseudonym was Kevin Smith, told jurors that Salemme was in bed when US marshals entered his room after midnight, and he said something like, “You got me, you got me.”
Salemme asked, “What is this about?” said Smith, adding he told him it was about “things from the past.”
Smith said Salemme had $28,090 in cash, and marshals found a suitcase packed with clothes, books, and maps in Salemme’s silver Mercury Grand Marquis.
Prosecutors told the jury that Salemme had wiped out all but $719 from a bank account he had in Atlanta before leaving town.
During cross-examination, Salemme’s lawyer asked if Salemme’s monthly stipend from the witness protection program had been cut in half, to about $700 a month, “almost to where he couldn’t live on that amount.”
Inspector Douglas agreed the payments to Salemme had been significantly cut, but he wasn’t sure of the amount.
It’s unusual, but not unprecedented, for witnesses to wear disguises while testifying in cases where there are safety concerns.
Judge Burroughs rejected a request by prosecutors to install a screen in the courtroom that would allow the defendants and the jury to see the inspectors testify, but not the public. She also rejected a request by the Marshals to bar the public from the courtroom during the testimony, while broadcasting audio in another courtroom where the public could listen. She agreed to allow the inspectors to disguise themselves with movie-quality makeup.
Cameras are not allowed in federal court, but sketch artists are. However, the judge would not allow sketch artists in the courtroom while the inspectors testified.
It was Salemme’s attorney, Elliot Weinstein who suggested the inspectors use makeup to alter their appearance.
“I thought it was a reasonable suggestion in the face of what I thought was a ridiculous, unfair and unconstitutional request from the government,” Weinstein said after Wednesday’s testimony. He said he was unaware of other cases in which witnesses used makeup to disguise their appearances, but thought it sounded creative.
The Salemme jury of 10 women and seven men, which includes five alternates, wasn’t given any special instructions about the disguised witnesses, though one of the inspectors acknowledged during questioning that he had taken steps to alter his appearance.Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.