A federal judge in Massachusetts has awarded $101.7 million to four innocent men who were framed by the FBI for a murder they did not commit.
In a scathing 228-page decision entered on July 26, 2007, Judge Nancy Gertner blasted the FBI for its complicity in framing the men. "The FBI's misconduct was clearly the sole cause of this conviction," Gertner said in her strongly-worded ruling.
In an attempt to further their fight against the Italian-American mafia, the FBI, and specifically FBI agents Dennis Condon and H. Paul Rico, withheld exculpatory evidence; encouraged their key witness, Joseph "The Animal" Barboza, to commit perjury; misled prosecutors and the jury; and vehemently fought every effort by the defendants to clear their names.
"This is not the situation of a mere passerby who observes a fire and fails to alert authorities; the [FBI] started the fire and then increased the risk of harm from that fire by allowing it to burn without taking adequate steps either to control it or to report it to the proper authorities," stated the Court.
Agents Condon and Rico pushed to have all four men - Peter Limone, Enrico Henry. Tameleo, Louis Greco and Joseph Salvati - prosecuted for the murder of Edward Deegan, a small-time criminal, even though that contradicted every shred of evidence they had in the case, including recorded conversations from illegal wiretaps and information received from top informants. Moreover, Barboza had actually told the agents that he would finger the four innocent men rather than identify the real killer, his friend Vincent "Jimmy the Bear" Flemmi.
As a result of the agents' lies and deception, all four defendants were convicted, several sentenced to death. Two died in prison: Tameleo in 1985 after serving 18 years, and Greco in 1995 after serving 28 years.
Salvati's sentence was commuted in 1997 and he was released after serving more than 29 years, while Limone served 33 years before being freed in 2001 when he and Salvati were exonerated by a state court judge.
During the federal bench trial, the government contended it was not liable for the wrongful convictions because, despite its misconduct, the state ultimately prosecuted the men. Gertner called the government's position "absurd." She also noted that FBI supervisors allowed the bogus prosecution to occur.
"It is difficult to imagine a more complete breakdown in supervision," Judge Gertner wrote in her ruling. "FBI higher-ups sat by and watched their employees break laws, violate rules, and ruin lives, interrupting only with the occasional burst of applause. They nurtured the situation in which criminal agents were free to do as they pleased."
Gertner also cited evidence that the FBI knew beforehand that Deegan was going to be killed, but failed to intervene to stop his murder. Deegan's two daughters filed a separate lawsuit in 2004 seeking to hold the FBI accountable for their father's death, but their case was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.
As for the four innocent men, from the moment they were convicted they maintained their innocence and sought their freedom by filing motions and appeals, appearing before the parole board seeking clemency, and telling their stories to the press. One even sought "and passed " a lie detector test.
Yet, as Judge Gertner noted, and as every reader of PLN already knows, "when law enforcement perverts its mission, the criminal justice system does not easily self-correct." Instead, it took "extraordinary efforts" to uncover the facts in this case, she said.
Following a 22-day bench trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Gertner held that the men had proven their case against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2671 et seq., and awarded them a total of $101,750,000. She awarded Salvati $29 million, Limone $26 million, Tameleo's estate $28 million, and Greco's estate $13 million. The wives of Salvati and Limone, and the estate of Tameleo's deceased wife, were each awarded just over $1 million. The men's 10 children each received $250,000.
The FBI remains unrepentant; as far as they are concerned, the men were simply "collateral damage" in the government's war against the mafia.
"To the FBI, the plaintiff's lives, and those of their families, just did not matter," Judge Gertner opined.
Agent Rico embodied this sentiment. During testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform following the exonerations, Rico was asked if he had any remorse that four innocent men had been sent to prison. He replied, "Would you like tears or something?"
In an ironic twist of fate, Rico was arrested in 2003 on conspiracy and murder charges in the 1981 killing of a Tulsa, Oklahoma, businessman. He died in prison in 2004 while awaiting trial.
The opinion in this case is available on PLN's website, www.prisonlegalnews.org. See: Limone v. United States of America, USDC D MA, Case No. 02-CV-10890-NG, 2007 WL 2141959.
Additional sources: The Boston Globe, wbztv.com, townonline.com
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Related legal case
Limone v. United States of America
|USDC D MA, No. 02-CV-10890-NG, 2007 WL 2141959