FBI Must Pay $102 Million In Mob Case
Friday, July 27, 2007
A federal judge in Boston yesterday ordered the government to pay a record nearly $102 million for the FBI's role in the 1968 wrongful murder convictions of four men, and she powerfully condemned misconduct that she said ran "all the way up to the FBI director."
U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner's scathing ruling runs for more than 200 pages, calling the charges leveled against the nation's law enforcement agency "shocking" and the government's defense "absurd."
"Now is the time to say and say without equivocation: this 'cost' -- to the liberty of four men, to our system of justice -- is not remotely acceptable," Gertner wrote in explaining the award. "This case is about intentional misconduct, subornation of perjury, conspiracy, the framing of innocent men."
Gertner said the FBI knew that the star witness in a murder trial -- a "top echelon" informant in the agency's war against La Cosa Nostra, the Italian Mafia -- was lying when he identified the four wrongfully convicted men as responsible for a 1965 gangland slaying. But Gertner said agents vouched for the witness's credibility and for years covered up the lie as the men attempted to prove their innocence.
"The FBI's conduct was intentional, it was outrageous, it caused plaintiffs immeasurable and unbearable pain and the FBI must be held accountable," Gertner wrote.
Two of the men convicted, Louis Greco and Henry Tameleo, died behind bars. The others, Peter Limone, 73, and Joseph Salvati, 74, spent three decades in prison -- Limone, for a time, on death row -- before being freed when their convictions were overturned in the late 1990s. The civil lawsuit against the FBI was filed in 2002.
Salvati and Limone were in the courtroom yesterday as Gertner announced her decision. Salvati was awarded $29 million, Limone was awarded $26 million, and Gertner awarded the rest of the $101.75 million to the estates of the deceased plaintiffs, their wives and family members.
"I missed all the anniversaries and birthdays and graduations of my children," Salvati said from his family's home after yesterday's verdict. "Thirty years -- and they done this intentionally. No money could make up for it."
A Justice Department spokesman said the department would have no comment. An appeals court earlier in the case agreed with Gertner's decision that the FBI should not receive immunity from the lawsuit.
The case of the four -- with its "Goodfellas"-like cast of characters and the men's decades-long assertions of innocence -- has drawn wide attention and even a congressional hearing. One of the men took and passed a polygraph test on television, the judge noted, and she congratulated "the extraordinary efforts of a judge, a lawyer, even a reporter to finally bring out the facts."
Gertner, who attended Yale Law School with Bill and Hillary Clinton, is a former criminal defense attorney who was nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton in 1993. She made no attempt to conceal her outrage at the FBI's conduct and said a 223-page opinion was necessary because the charges are so "shocking" that "I felt obliged to analyze this complex record with special care."
Gertner said FBI agents knew that one of its informants, Joseph "The Animal" Barboza, was lying when he told state prosecutors the four men were responsible for shooting Edward "Teddy" Deegan in a Chelsea, Mass., alley in 1965. The judge said Barboza's story "contradicted every shred of evidence in the FBI's possession" but that his FBI handlers, agents Dennis Condon and H. Paul Rico, encouraged him to testify anyway.
Justice Department lawyers argued in the case that the FBI was not liable for the wrongful convictions because the prosecutions were conducted by the state, and that the agency had no obligation to share internal information with the state or defense lawyers.
"The government's position is, in a word, absurd," Gertner said. She explained that she followed precedent from other court awards in giving the men, or the estates of the deceased, $1 million for each year of imprisonment.
Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Innocence Project, an organization that tracks wrongful convictions, said the award in the case is the largest ever.
Juliane Balliro, a lawyer who represented Limone, said she expects the government to appeal such a huge award. But she called the money a "legacy" for Limone's children, "a legacy other than that their father was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair."
The Post's news research staff contributed to this report.