I have to pause as I sometimes do in my review of Whitey’s life. I do this because a recent comment had me wondering about the influence of lawyers on this case. I was answering a comment by Norwood who suggested that the gangsters should have figured out Stevie Flemmi was an informant.
I responded that the gangsters didn’t figure this out because they aren’t usually too bright. That’s why when I was a prosecutor we were able to catch them. I like to tell the story of the time we were doing a wiretap on some bookies, The bettor started to go beyond placing a bet by entering into a discussion about some of the others in the operation. The bookie running the office replied: “be careful, the telephone may be [and then he spelled out the letters] T A P P E D” as if the cops wouldn’t figure out what he was spelling. Or in another instance, when we were listening to a couple of hoodlums talk and they began to whisper to each other thinking by lowering their voices they wouldn’t be heard.
After saying that the criminals aren’t bright, upon reflection I realized that for these criminals to get the deals they had been given they must have suddenly increased their IQs tremendously. How did they become so smart so quickly? Then I realized it was not the gangsters who became smarter. It was that they came in contact with smart criminal defense lawyers. That’s how the deals came about.
This gave me a whole new insight into this case especially when I remembered that the lawyer for the guy who got the deal of the century, John Martorano, was Francis J. DiMento of the law firm of DiMento & Sullivan. My first position as a lawyer in private practice was to work for over eight years in that firm which at that time consisted of Frank DiMento, JJ Sullivan and myself and sometimes one other lawyer.
For several years I worked closely with both men. They were as different as night and day except when it came to intellectual capacity and dauntlessness. JJ was a cauldron on the point of boiling over; Frank was as calm as a sunny August sunset. When I messed up with JJ the rafter rang; when Frank found I’d erred he’d patiently and kindly note my errors. I had the best teachers in the art of being a lawyer.
JJ brooked no errors. He stormed into my small office with a letter that went out to a client over my signature that had a spelling error in it. He tossed it on my desk demanding an explanation. Coward that I was, I suggested the secretary made the mistake. He picked it up, looked at it and said: “I don’t see the secretary’s signature on this letter.” He turned and stomped out.
I’d spend a lot of evenings with Frank when we worked late. The firm would pick up the meal which delighted me. Frank would talk about the case he was preparing. He had this uncanny ability to assess its strength and weaknesses, to set traps that would disadvantage the prosecutors, and predict how the case would play out. He’d tell how on the second day the Government will walk into a trap he will set and how he’d spring it on the fifth day into the trial.
As fascinating were these conversations, they were also a little bit depressing. I knew I would never be able to achieve his level of brilliance or have the wherewithal to plan and assess a case like he did. Frank was far and away one of the best criminal defense trial and appellate lawyers that ever walked the streets of Boston, if not the best.
I’ll always remember what he said to me when he learned I was leaving the firm. I had told JJ my decision. JJ shrugged, not being one for any sentimentality. He told Frank. Frank came into my office and expressed his chagrin at my decision. He wished me good luck and said he was glad that at least there would be one prosecutor with a heart.
Looking at this case I saw on one side was Frank DiMento dealing for Martorano and on the other side the prosecutors. The government made such a bad deal that they had to pretend publicly that it was something other than what it was. John Martorano wrote in his book “they knew how bad it would look, if I admitted to twenty murders, and I only had to testify against four people. So they came up with a specific target list. I had nothing to do with drawing up that list. It was a bunch of Whitey’s guys from Southie that I would have to testify against. Sure, I said. I loved that list, because I’d never known any of those guys, let alone committed any crimes with them. So I was glad to say I’d tell the government the truth about anything I did with them, which was nothing.”
I should have known that the prosecutors were no really no match for Frank. He handed them their lunch. Since that time the prosecutors have been in make-up mode. They have been thrust into the position of defending the indefensible. To do this they invented a great fiction. Much worse than Martorano, Flemmi, Weeks and Salemme is this imagined great criminal conspiracy consisting of Billy Bulger, Whitey Bulger and John Connolly. The media would add that Speaker John McCormack and Father Robert Drinan, SJ, were also a part of it.
There never was any evidence of this. Just like Martorano had no evidence against Whitey’s friends who he never met. But that hasn’t deterred the prosecutors from trying to dig out of the hole they find themselves in.