Frank Salemme mob boss trial: closing arguments

Frank Salemme is 84 years old and shuffles slowly into the courtroom each morning, wearing a suit and tie and smiling and chatting with his lawyer. He looks no more intimidating than your average dapper, good-natured older gentleman. But decades ago, he was the leader of the Boston mafia, and a murder that took place during that time is the reason why he’s currently on trial in federal court.

Salemme and his co-defendant, Paul Weadick, are on trial for the murder of their one-time business partner, Steven DiSarro. The trial began last month and featured emotional testimony from DiSarro’s family members, bickering between various attorneys, f-bomb filled transcripts of mafia members talking shop, and an appearance by Whitey Bulger’s partner in crime, Stephen Flemmi. I attended the closing arguments, which took place today.

Government’s Closing Argument

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ferland was up first for the prosecution. He described the moment that DiSarro left his Westwood home for the last time on the morning of May 10, 1993. He and his wife had recently had an argument when he objected to her upcoming business trip but couldn’t explain why he didn’t want her to go.

The government alleges that on Salemme’s orders, his son, Frank Jr., strangled DiSarro while his friend, Weadick, held his legs off the floor. DiSarro owned a South Boston rock and roll club called the Channel, which Salemme and the mafia were also interested in and trying to take over. They worried that DiSarro was going to inform on them to the FBI. DiSarro’s body was not found until 2016, buried behind a Providence, Rhode Island mill building.

Ferland admitted that Flemmi, the trial’s most high-profile witness and an eyewitness to the alleged murder, is a “murderer and career criminal.” But he argued, “the government did not pick these witnesses, Frank Salemme picked these witnesses” by choosing to work and associate with them. Flemmi testified that he dropped by Salemme’s house and happened upon the murder in progress. “I’ll see ya later,” he said and immediately left. Ferland pointed out that Flemmi had said as early as 2003 that DiSarro was strangled and buried at a construction site, something that was confirmed to be true when investigators found and examined his remains. Additionally, the testimony of Salemme’s “right-hand man,” Bobby DeLuca, was largely consistent with Flemmi’s despite him having no reason to like Flemmi or coordinate stories with him.

Salemme had plenty of motive to kill DiSarro, Ferland said. Salemme had “aspired to be a gangster for his entire adult life,” participating in numerous murders and even volunteering to blow up a lawyer’s car. The possibility of DiSarro going to the FBI threatened the mafia career that Salemme had spent so long building. There was lots of pressure on the mafia at the time, with media reports about their influence and law enforcement attempting to round up the bookies who paid them tribute. Middle-aged, middle-class, and without any jail experience, DiSarro was considered to be at high risk of “flipping.” And Weadick’s then-girlfriend, Lara Eldridge, testified that Weadick and Salemme Jr. (known as “Frankie Boy”) said DiSarro had a “big mouth.”

Finally, Ferland suggested that Salemme showed consciousness of guilt before his arrest. Part of the witness protection program, Salemme moved to a hotel near his Atlanta apartment without telling his supervisor and then fled to Connecticut.

DiSarro, a father of five, “had a lot to live for” and struggled while Salemme Jr. and Weadick strangled him.

Salemme’s Closing Argument

Defense attorney Steven Boozang was up next, to give his closing argument on behalf of Salemme. He reminded the jury that the prosecution has the burden of proof and the defense team does not have to put on a case at all.

“Mr. Salemme is no angel,” he admitted. “He’s done some bad things in his life… it was kill or be killed.” Boozang pointed out that his client is a licensed electrician and probably regrets some of the crimes he committed during his mafia career. Under almost constant surveillance by the FBI, Salemme would not have had the chance to drive DiSarro’s body to Rhode Island as is alleged. And, Boozang argued, he didn’t have much motive, as DiSarro didn’t have much incriminating information to begin with.

He called Flemmi a “career opportunist, serial liar, serial murderer” and argued that it was Flemmi and Bulger who killed people for being informants, not the Italian mafia. “He’s a sociopath,” Boozang said of Flemmi. “Complete lack of conscience.” Boozang argued that Flemmi would be more likely to join in than to walk away if he walked in on a murder in progress. Once when learning of a murder that Bulger and others had just committed, Flemmi expressed disappointment that he hadn’t gotten to participate. “Who says that?” asked Boozang. “He’s a psychopath.”

And he attacked other prosecution witnesses as well. Of mafia members / associates Joe and Bobby DeLuca, he said, “Joe’s eaten too many mushrooms that he picked from the woods and I think Bobby did too.” He called the brothers “amoebas” and said that they would do anything to survive, including turning on their boss.

Because Salemme was one of the most powerful mobsters, other criminals turned cooperating witnesses had incentive to place blame on him. Calling his client “the biggest crime boss next to John Gotti,” Boozang placed his hands affectionately on Salemme’s shoulders, causing Salemme to smile. Boozang added that despite being known as “Cadillac Frank,” Salemme never really liked or drove Cadillacs.

As for Salemme’s alleged consciousness of guilt, Boozang said that he was under no obligation to stay in the witness protection program and left because his monthly stipend had been cut from $1,500 to $700.

“It’s a very weak foundation that this case is based on,” Boozang said.

Weadick’s Closing Argument

After lunch, Attorney Mark Shea delivered his closing argument on behalf of Salemme’s co-defendant, Weadick. As he explained how cooperating witnesses have a tendency to lie and that it would be naïve to trust them, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak objected. “I expected an interruption sooner than that,” Shea said sarcastically in the first of what would become a series clashes between the two lawyers during Shea’s argument.

Shea acknowledged that the jury may have “Flemmi fatigue” but couldn’t help calling the rival mobster “the ultimate human cockroach.” Flemmi, he said, “sets the dance music,” and the other cooperating witnesses, such as the DeLucas, needed to play along by telling the same story. According to Shea, Flemmi mis-remembered the layout of the house in which DiSarro was killed and neglected to tell the FBI about witnessing DiSarro’s murder until 10 years after he initially decided to cooperate. Shea also questioned Flemmi’s account of seeing Salemme Jr. and DiSarro walking towards the back door of the house but deciding, for no apparent reason, to silently follow them instead of calling out.

“Can we have a sidebar on this nonsense?” Wyshak angrily asked at one point during Shea’s argument. In another instance, when Shea compared Flemmi to the suspect in Springfield, MA in whose home three bodies were recently discovered, Wyshak blurted, “It’s not argument; you’re testifying!”

“Who is Paul Weadick?” Shea rhetorically asked. “With all due respect to my client, he’s a nobody.” Shea questioned the appropriateness of trying someone like Weadick, a plumber and for the most part a regular guy whose only known criminal activity involved selling marijuana, alongside a major organized crime figure like Salemme. It was common in the mob world, Shea said, for innocent people such as Weadick to be swept up in investigations and falsely accused of crimes because of petty personal grudges.

Shea questioned the testimony of Lara Eldridge, Weadick’s girlfriend, who gave inconsistent accounts of the length of time they dated and added an implausible detail about Weadick giving her a gold bracelet that had belonged to DiSarro. And he accused the DeLuca brothers of perjuring themselves, playing tapes in which they contradicted their trial testimony.

“The truth matters,” he said. “Perjury matters…. Principles still matter. Justice still matters.”

By the time Shea wrapped up, it was 4:30, and a juror had an appointment to get to. Judge Allison Burroughs expressed irritation that the arguments had taken significantly more time than anyone anticipated. In case there are any jurors left who are not completely sick of listening to closing arguments, the prosecution will do a 15-minute rebuttal tomorrow morning, and then the jury will begin deliberations.