Two days shy of his 84th birthday, Stevie Flemmi had a senior moment on the witness stand yesterday.
He couldn’t recognize Frank Salemme, his old partner in crime, in the U.S. District courtroom.
“I don’t see him,” the Rifleman answered when the prosecutor asked him to point out the 85-year-old former boss of the New England Mafia.
“Stand up,” prosecutor Fred Wyshak told his star witness.
Stevie got up slowly and peered through thick black glasses around Courtroom 17. His eyes kept drifting away from the defense table, where Salemme sat calmly in a light brown suit, and over to the spectators’ gallery.
“I would recognize him if I saw him,” Stevie finally mumbled. “But I don’t see him.”
Afterwards, I waved at Frank and got his attention. I asked him about Stevie’s inability to point him out.
“He’s soft,” Frank said. “He had a stroke.” Then he stuck his tongue into his cheek and screwed up his mouth into a grimace, to indicate how Stevie was incapacitated.
Earlier, Frankie had dictated a little note to his lawyer, Steve Boozang, to give to me to read.
“Blue Jay is looking over us,” the note said. It was signed, “F.S.”
Blue Jay was Carl Velleca, an old-time thief who was once imprisoned at MCI-Concord, where he unsuccessfully ran for selectman, counting on the votes of his fellow inmates. He lost. Blue Jay later dropped dead while delivering a sermon at a local church.
I’d forgotten all about Blue Jay until Frankie mentioned him. But that’s the kind of day it was – multiple trips down Memory Lane, organized crime division.
Stevie was brought back to Boston to testify against Salemme, who is charged with murdering a bar owner with his now deceased son back in 1993. It’s Stevie’s final trip back to his hometown – he’s doing life plus 30 years for every crime in the book, including 10 murders, which the feds went over one by one.
In a brief recitation Wyshak asked Flemmi if he had pled guilty to the murder of… Edward Connors, Thomas King, Roger Wheeler, Richard Castucci, Deb Davis, John Callahan, Bucky Barrett, Deb Hussey, John McIntyre.
Yes, Flemmi said in response to every name. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes….
In prison now for the last 23 years, Flemmi is hard of hearing. He mumbles. He confuses murder victims, Thomas Timmons and Thomas King. He misremembers how long he operated out of Somerville. He described murder after murder in the passive voice. For instance, Wyshak asked him, what happened to his criminal associate Peter Poulos?
“He was murdered,” Flemmi said.
He was asked what happened to a home invader named Thomas Timmons.
Here are a few of the other highlights of Flemmi’s first day on the witness stand:
He paid corrupt FBI agent John “Zip” Connolly $235,000 “and there was other money too.”
He was also tight with an earlier corrupt G-man, H. Paul Rico – “I had a relationship with him and Dennis Condon. Quid pro quo. I’d give him information and he’d give us information on the Mafia, what pertained to us.”
He was asked why he developed such a close relationship with Whitey Bulger, as opposed to the other principals in the Winter Hill Gang, like Howie Winter and John Martorano. “We weren’t involved in the lifestyle of the other guys. We didn’t smoke or drink. They were party guys.” Another thing Stevie and Whitey had in common: they were pedophiles.
At the end of his testimony yesterday, he was asked about Frankie Salemme Jr., who actually strangled the bar owner at the home of Frank’s ex-wife in Sharon. Stevie just happened to be there watching the murder – a recurring pattern in his life of crime.
Back in the late 80’s, Frank Sr. was still languishing in state prison for blowing up a lawyer in Everett. So Stevie took “Frankie boy,” as his father called him, under his crooked wing.
“He was a young kid, I liked him, a nice kid.”
He was trying to make his way in the world, Frankie Boy was. He started ripping off drug dealers. Joe Black, from In Town, the Mafia, had some Puerto Ricans selling marijuana for him. Frankie Boy sold them a huge load of weed, only it was peat moss. Joe Black went to Stevie and told him he was going to have to straighten out the kid.
“I says, Joe, that’s Frank’s kid. Nothing’s gonna happen to this kid or you’re gonna have a problem.”
Nothing happened to the kid, and Joe Black didn’t have a problem.
The trial resumes this morning.
As I left the courthouse yesterday, on the red brick sidewalk on Northern Avenue, I saw a shadow of a bird flying above me. I remembered Frank’s thought for the day – “Blue Jay is looking over us.”
I glanced up. It was a seagull.