House Opens 30 Year-Old Mob Investigation

By Melanie Nayer

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13--Thirty years after the 1971 murder of New Bedford's mob assassin Joe "The Animal" Barboza, the House Committee on Government Reform began hearings yesterday on whether the federal government withheld evidence in the 1960s and 1970s, allowing Barboza to testify falsely against innocent men.

"We don't have a democracy if we have a justice system whose integrity is at risk," said William Delahunt, (D-MA.), who was invited to attend and question the committee's witnesses on behalf of his constituents.

In 1967, Mr. Barboza was a cooperating government witness whose false testimony to a jury resulted in sending a number of innocent men to prison and some to death row. After his testimony, the Witness Protection Program was established and Mr. Barboza was relocated to Santa Rosa, Calif., where he soon committed a murder of a small time crook, Clay Wilson

Of the men sent to jail because of Mr. Barboza's testimony, two died in prison, one served 34 years before being cleared and Joe Salvati served 30 years before he was cleared. Mr. Salvati, his family and his lawyer, Victor Garo, were in Washington yesterday.

"Today we're actually seeing what the federal government did to help Joe Barboza," Mr.Garo said in an interview, "and the question presented is this - why is the federal government helping a murderer while he is in the federal Witness Protection Program?"

In his opening statement, committee chairman Dan Burton (R-IN.) said: "For decades, federal law enforcement did terrible things up in New England, and they were successful in covering it up. The FBI knew Barboza was lying, and they covered it up."

For 20 years, Mr. Garo fought on behalf of the Salvati family, without the help of federal officials, to get parole for Mr. Salvati.

"The evidence shows that the government has known since 1965 that Joe Salvati was innocent of these charges," Mr. Garo said. "We hope that this committee will be able to do things legislatively so that another family will never have to endure the tragedy and the nightmare that the Joe Salvati family has had to endure."

The three witnesses at yesterday's hearing were: Marteen Miller, the former public defender who represented Mr. Barboza in the California murder; Ed Cameron, a former investigator in the Santa Rose District Attorney's office; and Tim Brown, a former detective sergeant in the Sonoma County Sheriff's office. All said they did not know that the FBI in the mid-1960s had described Mr. Barboza "as the most dangerous individual known" when it relocated him to California.

"It is more than fair to say that we did not get cooperation from the FBI," Mr. Cameron said. "When you've been a cop long enough you get a gut feeling, and I had a feeling that something was wrong. We never got so much as a return phone call from the FBI."

Mr. Garo, in the interview, said, "The testimony of the federal government officials at the trial of Barboza was so colored that the government did not believe they could get a first-degree conviction…, and Barboza was out after less than four years in prison."

As for Mr. Salvati, he said in an interview, "I just want them to stand up and say they are sorry."


Written for the New Bedford Standard-Times in New Bedford, Mass.

Sunday, June 30, 2002   

Attorney Victor Garo with Joseph Salvati.

Airdate: Wednesday, May 2, 2001
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Tomorrow in Washington D.C., a congressional committee will look into the role the FBI may have played in sending the wrong men to prison for a Boston gangland slaying. First to testify will be Joe Salvatti of the North End.

Joe was a 31 year old father of four in March of 1965 when a low-level mobster named Edward "Teddy" Deegan was brutally murdered. Joe and five other men went to prison for the crime. Joe was finally paroled in 1997 after thirty years behind bars. This January, 36 years after the killing, newly released FBI documents revealed that four of the men, including Joe, were innocent. Joe Salvati was framed for the murder by Joseph "The Animal" Barboza -- a loan shark and notoriously dangerous criminal -- and an informant for the FBI. According to a judge, the FBI withheld documents to protect their prized informant, allowing an innocent man to be put behind bars.

Salvati says his conscience was always clear.. And now, so is his name. His lawyer, Victor Garo, fought for his client for 26 years without charging a dime and will join Joe testifying tomorrow

Opening Statement

Chairman Dan Burton

Committee on Government Reform

“Justice Department Misconduct in Boston:

Are Legislative Solutions Required?”

February 27, 2002

      Good morning.

      We’re meeting again today to talk about FBI misconduct in Boston.  This is an investigation that we’re very serious about -- I think that’s clear to everyone at this point.  We’ve held four days of hearings.  We’ve heard testimony about some things that I think everyone finds pretty shocking.

      A lot of people in this country, myself included, grew up revering the FBI.  I still believe that there are many, many good, honest people at the FBI and the Justice Department.  I think they are dedicated to protecting the public, and their reputations shouldn’t be stained by the actions of a few people.  But it’s been very sobering to hear about some of these terrible abuses going on in an agency that I’ve always put on a pedestal. 

    It was a sad day two weeks ago when we had a former FBI agent come in and take the Fifth.  When I was growing up criminals took the Fifth.  I didn’t think I’d ever see an FBI agent take the Fifth.

    Last year, we heard about Joe Salvati for the first time.  The FBI had a prized mob witness -- Joe “the Animal” Barboza.  Joe Barboza testified against Joe Salvati and others.  He implicated Joe Salvati in a murder that happened in 1965.  Joe Salvati went to prison for life.  Others went to prison for crimes they may not have been involved in.  But Joe Barboza lied.  And the FBI knew he was lying.  They had document after document in their possession showing who the real killers were, and they never turned them over to the defense.  Joe Salvati had never been involved in organized crime.  He had four little kids when he went to prison.  When he finally was cleared -- after thirty years -- his kids were all grown up.

  How could the FBI stand by and let that happen? 

  Two weeks ago, we held a hearing about Joe “the Animal” Barboza’s murder trial.  The Justice Department put Joe Barboza in the Witness Protection Program.  He was the first one in the program.  They put him in California and he committed another murder.  He went on trial, and the FBI and the Justice Department went out to California and helped him get a lighter sentence

    A Justice Department lawyer and an FBI agent testified on Barboza’s behalf during the trial.  Their testimony was devastating to the prosecutors.  I can’t forget one of the statements at our hearing:

   “The FBI at the time was considered pretty sacrosanct.  They had damaged our case to the point that we didn’t think the jury would give us a first degree murder verdict.”

   This was a man who had already committed more than 20 murders.  This was a man who the FBI said was “the most dangerous criminal known.”  This was a man who murdered again after they put him in the witness protection program -- and they helped him get a light sentence.          

    Joe “the Animal” Barboza, who had probably killed two dozen people, was up for parole in three years.  And at the very first parole hearing, that Justice Department lawyer flew out and testified on Barboza’s behalf.

    That Justice Department lawyer is now a Federal judge in Massachusetts.  His name is Edward Harrington.  He testified here two weeks ago.  We asked him why he did all this.  His response was that they had just created the witness protection program, and they wanted to send a message to people that if you went into the program, the Justice Department would stand by you.

    What kind of a message is that?  If you go into the witness protection program, and you murder somebody, we’ll stand by you.  I think that’s outrageous.  We need to have a witness protection program.  The people who go into the program are obviously criminals.  But I think we have to lay down the law.  If the government pays you money and protects you, and you murder somebody -- you’re finished.  Period.

  What we’ve looked at so far is just the tip of the iceberg.  What the FBI did in Boston was tragic:

   They had a group of mob informants committing murders with impunity.

�                    They tipped of killers so they could flee before being arrested.

�                    They interfered with local investigations of drug dealing and arms smuggling.

�                    Some FBI agents were getting pay-offs.

�                    When people went to the Justice Department with evidence about murders, some of them wound up dead.

      We’re conducting this investigation because there are some basic questions we want to get answered:

  �                    How extensive were the abuses?  We need to find out the extent of what government officials did and explain it to the American people.

�                    How high up the food chain did this go?  We know that memo after memo was written to J. Edgar Hoover.  Did he sign off on all the things that were done?  Breaking the back of the mob was his number one priority, and all indications are that he paid very close attention to what was happening.

  �                    Are there other cases where people were knowingly sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit?  We have an obligation to find out.

  �                    And finally, are there legislative responses to this that we ought to consider?

    That’s the point of today’s hearing.  What kind of legislative action is called for?  Do we need tougher penalties.  Should the statute of limitations be extended for prosecutorial misconduct?  As we’ve seen in Boston, corruption on the part of a government official can go undetected for decades.  Are there other types of legislation that we ought to consider?

     We have a distinguished panel of witnesses today.  First, we have Victor Garo.  Victor was the attorney for Joe Salvati.  Victor spent 25 years fighting to get Joe Salvati out of prison.  He didn’t get paid a penny.  But Victor wasn’t going to abandon Marie Salvati and her four kids.  His perseverance paid off, and I’m looking forward to what he has to say.

    We also have a former Connecticut State’s Attorney, Austin McGuigan.  Mr. McGuigan was the Chief Prosecutor on Connecticut’s Statewide Organized Crime Task Force.  He’s going to testify about a whole new part of this scandal that we haven’t focused on yet -- the corruption of World Jai Alai. 

    The State of Connecticut was investigating Mob infiltration of the sport of Jai Alai in Bridgeport.  The state prosecutors were trying to get some cooperation from the FBI in Boston, and they couldn’t get any help.  As it turned out, World Jai Alai was being infiltrated by Whitey Bulger and Stevie “the Rifleman” Flemmi, the same thugs who were informants for the FBI.  In fact, one of those FBI agents, Paul Rico, retired and went to work for World Jai Alai.  He’s the same man who took the Fifth here earlier this month. 

    There was a series of murders.  The head of World Jai Alai was murdered in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  A member of the Winter Hill Gang went to the FBI to offer them information.  He was murdered.  The Connecticut prosecutors went down to Florida to interview another person tied into World Jai Alai.  The day they arrived, his dead body was found. 

    Who was tipping off the Mob and causing all of these murders?  That’s one of the things we want to find out.  Mr. McGuigan, thank you for being here.  We look forward to your testimony.

We also have two very distinguished law professors -- Frederick Lawrence of Boston University and Stephen Duke of Yale.  Mr. Lawrence used to work as a prosecutor for Rudy Giuliani in New York.  He has extensive experience in the area of prosecutorial misconduct.  Mr. Duke is a distinguished professor at Yale Law School and he teaches a course titled “Freeing the Innocent.”  We appreciate you both being here today and giving us your input. 

I now yield to Mr. Waxman for his opening statement.