On March 10, 1965, Boston-based FBI agents used a wiretap to eavesdrop on a conversation in which Vincent “Jimmy” Flemmi and Joseph “The Animal” Barboza requested permission from a New England mafia boss to kill Edward Deegan, a small-time criminal who had insulted mob members. Barboza was acting as an FBI informant at the time, and agents were interested in developing a similar relationship with Flemmi. In order to protect these informants, the FBI did nothing to prevent the murder, and on March 12, Deegan was killed. His body was found that night in an alley in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He had been shot six times, and at least three different weapons had been used.
In conversations with FBI agents, Barboza and Flemmi named six people who had been involved in Deegan’s murder. According to Barboza, the contract murder was ordered by Peter Limone, a bookie and nightclub manager, and carried out by Louis Greco. Enrico Tameleo, a top mafia aide, supposedly sanctioned the crime, while several other people were also involved in the complex conspiracy. Barboza and Flemmi admitted that they, too, were involved, but because of their special relationship with the FBI, they were never prosecuted. Barboza testified before a grand jury on October 25, 1967, and six men were indicted for Deegan’s murder.
All six defendants were tried at the same time. Based primarily on Barboza’s testimony, all six were convicted on July 31, 1968. Greco, Limone and Tameleo were sentenced to death. However, their sentences were reduced to life in prison in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia, which invalidated all death sentences then pending in the United States.
In the years following the convictions, important evidence came to light indicating the innocence of Limone, Greco, Tameleo and Joseph Salvati, who was convicted of being an accessory to murder and given a life sentence. Barboza signed an affidavit on July 28, 1970, stating that these four men were not involved in the murder. On April 9, 1976, a lawyer who had worked with Barboza signed an affidavit stating that Barboza had admitted to giving false testimony about Limone’s role in the crime. These were followed by other affidavits by witnesses and lawyers who said they had lied during trial or had known that Barboza gave false testimony. In 1976, Barboza was shot and killed in San Francisco, California.
Individually, the four men filed numerous appeals, but were repeatedly denied relief. Tameleo died in prison in 1985 and Greco in 1995. In the spring of 1997, Salvati’s sentence was commuted and he was released on parole.
In the summer and fall of 2000, a special prosecutor investigating the FBI’s use of informants came across numerous documents from 1965 demonstrating that agents knew Barboza and Flemmi had committed the murder without the involvement of Greco, Limone, Tameleo or Salvati – including reports made directly to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. In December of 2000, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge held a hearing to consider releasing Limone based on information in these memos, and on January 5, 2001, Limone was released. All charges against Limone and Salvati were dropped on January 31, 2001.
In 2003, the Massachusetts House Committee on Government Reform condemned the FBI for failing to turn over documents that would have exonerated Limone. The District Attorney’s Office that originally prosecuted the case posthumously dismissed charges against Louis Greco in 2004 and against Enrico Tameleo in 2007. The federal government awarded $100 million in compensation to Limone, Salvati and to the estates of Greco and Tameleo. This award was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Court in 2009. In 2012, the Department of Justice dropped its appeal of nearly $1 million in costs and fees awarded to the lawyers who brought the lawsuit.
- Alexandra Gross