I wrote a book called “Don’t Embarrass the Family.”
I explained why I gave the book that title. I attended every day of the trial of the United States v John Connolly before Judge Joseph Tauro and took copious notes. I was able to produce the testimony of the witnesses at Connolly’s trial in somewhat of a transcript form but because the witnesses testimony during direct and cross-examination did not vary significantly I could incorporate both direct and cross into one narrative from each witness.
it appeared to me that the defense in the case sought to limit its attack on the government’s case. I attributed that to the wishes of the defendant retired FBI Agent John Connolly. A defense lawyer can only present a case in conformity with a defendant’s wishes. In this case Tracy Miner, who was Connolly’s defense lawyer was capable of doing whatever was necessary for a client but she is constrained by defendant’s instructions and wishes.
Both sides seemed not to be straying too far from a specific tale. The case was such that a lawyer sitting next to me who represented a family of a victim of Whitey Bulger victims said to me: “Is this case fixed?” By that I assume he meant Connolly was taking all the heat and the FBI was escaping hardly being touched.
The name of the title came to me when Frank Salemme was testifying for the US government. He lied during the trial saying among other things he had no involvement in the 1993 murder of Steven DiSarro. He was just convicted of doing this by the same government attorneys who used him before as a witness.
That was one of the points raised by John Connolly in his motion for a new trial. The trial judge denied it without an opinion; the Court of Appeals upheld its denial. It brushed his complaint aside saying it wasn’t important. Actually, it was very important judging from the jury’s verdict. It found Connolly guilty on several counts almost totally dependent on Salemme’s credibility. He had denied that any murders occurred when he was the boss, or king as he called himself, of the New England Mafia. Had the jury known he was involved in DiSarro’s murder it may very well have had a different opinion of him.
When Salemme testified during the Connolly trial he told how as the Mafia boss he instructed his lieutenants – known in Mafia lingo as “caporegime or capodecina, usually shortened to just a capo” – that they could let the guys under them do anything that they wanted as long as they did not embarrass the family.
When he said that it occurred to me that the trial was going like it was because no one wanted to embarrass the family, in this case the FBI. The case against John Connolly was an FBI cover-up of the fact that it aligned itself with James Whitey Bulger and Stephen Flemmi (who admitted during the recent Salemme trial where he was the star witness that he may have murdered up to fifty people). It made them Top Echelon Informants. Under J. Edgar Hoover a program was created, in part because the FBI could no longer plant bugs wherever it wanted by breaking into private places or residences. The screwball idea that rather than bugs the FBI would partner with criminals who were at the top-level of criminal organizations to help them. .
These criminals at the highest levels obviously were not going to volunteer to double cross their buddies. They wanted something for it. What could be better than having the guys who were supposed to be investigating you now having your back. The FBI was offering a priceless gift to real nefarious individuals such as Bulger and Flemmi. It was telling them they could operate as long as the provided it information against other criminals. In Boston it became the “Irish” providing information against the Italians.
The Top Echelon Program, which still exists, is an ongoing embarrassment to the FBI. It was supposed to be a secret program. The FBI worried if the people truly understood how it operated they would demand it be shut down.When Connolly was on trial in 2002 it saw the public response to its actions. The local media was up in arms about Bulger and Flemmi two top gangsters being informants. How could that be?