My Big Day Representing The Author of “My Life in the Mafia”

I’m leaving the Cape to head to Boston for the hearing tomorrow.  I thought I’d tell you about another trip I took many years ago.

I was going through my papers and came across the name Vinny Teresa.  I decided to Google him. I learned he died on February 21, 1990. Here’s his obit in the Seattle  Times:

Vincent “Fat Vinnie” Teresa, 61, reputedly the No. 3 man in the New England Mafia until he became a federal government informer, is dead of kidney failure. He died Feb. 21 in Des Moines.  Teresa, who once lived in the Maple Valley area under the name Charles Cantino, reportedly brought in more than $150 million to crime syndicates.

He was indicted in a huge stock swindle and imprisoned at the Lewisburg, Pa., federal penitentiary. An FBI agent persuaded him to turn state’s evidence in the early 1970s, and Teresa’s testimony resulted in the indictment or conviction of more than 50 organized-crime bosses, including Meyer Lansky, the Mafia’s biggest moneymaker.

Teresa, who was given the Cantino identity after testifying against the others, later wrote a book titled “My Life in the Mafia.”  In December 1984, Teresa, as Cantino, was indicted on charges of smuggling rare birds into the country. He pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Seattle and was sentenced to two years in prison. His son, David, an Arizona resident, was put on probation for three years and fined $1,000 for his part in the family smuggling ring.   Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.”

I represented Vinny, sort of, sometime back in the late Sixties.  He was a client of the small law firm I worked for in Boston. One of the two partners sent me out to Pittsfield in the western part of Massachusetts to get a continuance in his case.  I knew nothing more than that about it. Massachusetts not being too large it took me about two and half hours, maybe a little more, to get there. I arrived at the superior courthouse a little after 9. I’d never been there before and never went back again.

I noticed there was a trial list. Vinny’s case was the only case on it. I got talking with some of the lawyers and they ribbed me about being a big time Boston lawyer coming out to their locale to try cases involving Mafia guys. They went on to say I’d soon learn juries out there didn’t like Boston lawyers or Mafia guys. ”Juries?” I thought, “What the hell are they talking about juries for?”  I had not tried a superior court case at that time.  I thought I knew how to do it but I didn’t intend to start then because I had no idea what the case was about. I didn’t even have a case folder.

At 10:00 sharp Judge Francis Quirico walked onto the bench. Right off the bat the clerk announced, “Commonwealth v. Vincent Theresa”. The prosecutor who I never saw before stood up and said “Ready for trial.” Quirico looked at me. I said I was there to ask for a continuance.

He said, “Denied, the case is on for trial.” I gulped. He then looked at me more severely asking, “Are you a member of the Massachusetts bar?” probably concerned because I stood there with my mouth open with no words coming out. I nodded. He went on, “This case is scheduled for trial.  We have a jury waiting to be impaneled. You are a member of the bar and have filed an appearance. We’re going to trial today, counsel.”  I could feel the perspiration drops falling under my arms.

He then said, “Where’s your client?”  I turned around to look for him — I don’t know why. I had never seen him before and had no idea what he looked like.  There were only a dozen or so people there, mostly lawyers I’d already talked with who had come for the show. None of them looked like a Vinny Teresa, whatever he was supposed to look like. I turned back and said, “I don’t see him, your honor.” Quirico turned to his court officer and said “Call the defendant!”

I’m now thinking how am I going to try a case I know nothing about. In the background I heard the court officer stating, “Vincent Theresa, please step forward” or something like that. No one showed up. Quirico said:  “Default the defendant, arrest warrant to issue, and you (meaning me) are held here.  Be ready to impanel a jury as soon as he gets here.”  I felt it was my duty to object so I did. The judge left the bench.

My preparation for his trial was to plead with the clerk to give me copies of the indictments which he did. I figured it’d be a good start to see what he was charged with. I begged for a yellow legal pad from one of the lawyers. He gave me a half used one when I promised to give him a new one the next day. Two or three hours later as I sat in court ruing my fate I learned to my great happiness that Vinny had driven off the Massachusetts Turnpike and destroyed his car.

He was in a hospital in Worcester. (I had a feeling that he did that because he heard I had been sent out there to represent him.)  Given that, Quirico released me from my involuntary servitude. Driving back to Boston I felt I had to visit Vinny in the hospital. I figured I should tell him he was going to be arrested. I was taken to his location in the hospital. There he was lying on one of those stretchers they push around on wheels. A sheet covered his body. It looked like a great white whale was there rather than a person. I never saw anyone so fat, I mean big.  I gave him the news.  He grunted.  I said good bye.  We never met again.

I don’t know what happened to that case — he probably had not paid the firm and they sent him a message by sending out a rookie (me) to be his trial counsel. He must have changed firms after that,  I don’t think my being his lawyer for a day made him decided he was better off in the hands of the FBI, but who knows.

He’s the only Mafia guy I ever entered an appearance for in court for the one main reason I’m Irish. That’s an example of how you learn the trial business — you’re thrown in and have to swim or sink.  Fortunately that day I was able to float.

5 thoughts on “My Big Day Representing The Author of “My Life in the Mafia”

  1. great story. so thankful you put together this blog to answer what people have wondered about for years. i never really thought about the fact catherine greig got more time than john the hitman. the fbi and their reliance on informers is not something the public quite has been informed about. i mean a guy dealing herion and giving info on other matters does not sound good to me. a bargain with the devil

    1. I like your blog name but can’t say it applies to me. The wise guys are always the ones who get the best deals. One thing that is commonly misunderstood is the experience factor between the FBI agent and the street criminals. The criminals are usually tougher and smarter in a street sense and string the FBI agents along. Catherine Greig’s sentence is way out proportion to others. It’s the judiciary and executive getting together to try to squeaze her. I think the women of Southie ought to erect a statute to her. She was the only one in all this crew who didn’t rat something else. Says a lot about the women of Southie compared to the men.

  2. Quirico was an excellent judge. He could be very strict, even harsh in sentencing but was extremely knowledgable and always provided a fair trial. The late great attorney P. Burns concurred in this appraisal. 2. Carney will have a great time questioning Weeks and the other perjurers the Govenment will present. If judge Stearns empanels only three jurors ( Davis’ brother, Donahue’s wife and Halloran’s brother) at Whitey’s trial will the Court of Appeals uphold this?

    1. Quirico was a good judge but I wasn’t looking for a good judge – all I wanted to do was to escape from Pittsfield. If Paul Burns said a judge was good then no one could doubt that. A great lawyer whose line about other lawyers that I always remembered: “he never tried a felony case in superior court.” That was the one indication Burns used to decide the real lawyers from the fakers.
      The court of appeals would say that was an eminently fair jury even after Stearns limited Carney’s cross examination to three questions of each witness. Whitey is sunk unless Carney can get a fair jury in Iceland – but even there didn’t we have a woman who turned him in. Maybe in Timbuctu.

    2. Here’s the comment you made that disappeared: Comment:
      If this case were tried in Ohio, where Whitey is not well known, a good lawyer like Carney might secure an acquittal. Gucci, Flemmi and Weeks are all career criminals, all murderers,all with sweatheart deals and only give information after Whitey flees and presumably is gone for good. Those witnesses are easily impeached and lack minimal credibility. But in the end the trial will be held in front of a biased judge with a tainted jury. The fix is in. 2. What about the bogus legal theory that the taxpayers are obligated to pay the estates of the people the gangsters kill. It almost a certainty that no one was killed because of leaks. The Halloran case refutes that. Only the the corrupt Federal Judges are propagating that falsehood to the detriment of the citizenry. The USA Today story claims that the DEA has 4000 informants. If half are selling narcotics ( heroin, oxy etc.) how many overdoses have resulted? Thousands, tens of thousands or hunreds of thousands. In Boston the judges were giving the families of organized crime murders about $4 million each. What would the estates of the junkies who purchased their heroin from the DEA informant be entitled to? It could cost the taxpayers trillions. 3. If two days after Morris leaked the story to the Globe that ” Whitey had a special relationship with the FBI” a Boston cop named Lewis had been asked by a gangster if Whitey was an informant and he said yes. Then the gangster had killed Whitey. Would Whitey’s family be entitled to millions? Would Off. Lewis be guilty of murder? Or because it was in the public realm and on the front page of the newspaper would that negate all claims and criminal charges?( Wouldn’t that be exactly the Halloran case?) 4. Should Spike O’Toole’s family be compensated? He was killed by Winter Hill, some of whom were informants for the Feds. They tried to kill him on prior occasions. They shot him five times on Savin Hill Ave.but he survived.The only problem is O’Toole was a killer himself. He was asked in Conners Tavern by a now deceas!
      ed patron ” how many people have you killed” He said he stopped counting at 14. The taxpayers shouldn’t be held accountable. None of them should be compensated. In the film The Road to Perdition the crook played by P.Newman says ” this is the life we chose” So did all those involved in this mess. 5. One shouldn’t worry about unfair counts in basketball games but should focus more on unfair counts in elections. Look what happened in 1960 to Nixon. LBJ in Texas and Daley in Chicago stole the presidency from him. A similar fate happened locally to Phil Johnson. Phil was probably unelectable in the general election. He was too closely connected to Dukakis, your favorite governor.( Remember Pres. Reagan, our best president in 150 years, said his favorite Dem. Governor was King) After winning a congressional primary a recount took place in front of a suspect judge Big Bird Donovan. The recount took place in chambers and BB acted as the contortionist Little Egypt and voila the challenger defeated poor Phil. Of course in an act of judicial bravery the SJC upheld the robbery. Keep up the good work. Your blog is excellent as I’m sure your book will be.

      Here’s my response:

      1. If Whitey could get an impartial jury there is a chance he could beat the rap.
      2. I never understood the theory of taxpayers paying for guys killed in the gang wars or who associate with criminals. Although if the FBI wants to have its agents join up with these criminals, as it still does, I think there may be some liability.
      3. There is a similarity between your example and Halloran’s. Dirty Johnny Morris put it right on Connolly saying he tipped off Whitey that Halloran was talking. The problem is we don’t know if it is true. Maybe Whitey will tell us, but then who will believe him. You’re right the word on the street was that Halloran was wired so Whitey could have known from that source; just like every gangster knew Jimmy Cox was wired so he was only able to get a Boston cop who didn’t know it.
      4. Spike O’Toole’s family? Did he have a family? I remember someone pointed him out to me in the coffee shop across from St. William’s church. I don’t believe what anyone repeats from the hand of a Hollywood writer.
      5, I do worry about unfair counts in elections like the Bush Florida count that was shut down by the USSupreme Court. All we lost when Nixon was defeated by Kennedy was an earlier entry into Vietnam. The Kennedy family wanted Johnson to win. He was a family friend. They were pissed at Delahunt for seeking a recount. I never understood how Delahunt later became a friend of Ted’s.
      6. My favorite story about Regan was when he had been president for a couple of years a high ranking official from India visited the White House. He said to him, “you seem to have a laissez-faire approach to governing.” Regan responded that he learned that as a young man growing up. He said, “I loved the summers when we could go to the lazy fairs we used to have. One year I had a champion hog.” The Indian guy was baffled, but Nancy understood him after consulting her astrolologist.

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