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Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme was at the pinnacle of his criminal career when he rose to the head of the New England family of La Cosa Nostra in the early 1990s.
But a nightclub owner who Salemme believed was ratting him out to authorities was threatening that, a federal prosecutor told jurors Monday. So Salemme had the man killed to keep him quiet, the prosecutor said.
"He had aspired to be a gangster his entire adult life," Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ferland said of now-84-year-old Salemme. "All of the effort and time he put into making his name, so to speak, in the world of organized crime was being put at risk by Steven DiSarro."
Ferland's comments came in his closing arguments after a more than-month long trial for Salemme and his co-defendant, Paul Weadick, who are charged with killing DiSarro in 1993. Salemme and Weadick, who was friends with Salemme's late son, deny any involvement in the killing.
Salemme's attorney tried to poke holes in the government's case and the story of their star witness, Salemme's former best friend, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi.
Flemmi told jurors this month that he was looking for Salemme when he walked into a home on May 1993 and happened upon the killing. Flemmi says he saw Salemme's son strangling DiSarro while Weadick held DiSarro's feet and Salemme stood by. Salemme's son, known as "Frankie boy," died in 1995.
Boozang called Flemmi — who's serving a life sentence for 10 slayings — a "sociopath" and "career opportunist." He accused Flemmi, also 84, of lying about Salemme because he believes helping the government will give him a chance to get out of prison before he dies.
"He's lying to you and he's lying to the government," Boozang told jurors, as Salemme watched intently with his hands folded in front of him. "Anyway they can survive, they will. And the way to survive is to take down Frank Salemme."
Boozang also questioned why Salemme would admit to several gangland slayings after he agreed to cooperate with the government in 1999, but never fess up to the DiSarro killing.
"He's done some bad things in his life, some things I'm sure at his age he regrets," Boozang said. "But that's the life he led."
Ferland sought to bolster Flemmi's credibility, telling jurors the former gangster hasn't wavered in his story in more than a decade. Flemmi first told investigators about Salemme's involvement in DiSarro's killing in 2003, but Salemme wasn't charged until 2016 when DiSarro's remains were dug up behind a mill building in Providence, Rhode Island. The mill owner told authorities about the remains after he was charged in a federal drug case.
Flemmi also knew details — like the fact that DiSarro was strangled — before they were confirmed by authorities when his remains were found, Ferland said.
Salemme, who was wearing a light grey suit and blue tie, shuffled into the courtroom and waved to the press as court began for the day, and occasionally passed notes to his lawyer as Ferland spoke. He and Weadick face up to life in prison if convicted.
Ferland put images of a younger, "buff" Salemme on the screen and urged jurors not to be swayed by the now-elderly man now sitting in front of them in the courtroom.
"He looks like a seasoned, old, polite, elderly gentleman," Ferland said. "That's not who we are talking about here. We're talking about Frank Salemme from 25 years ago."
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