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Once-vindicated Limone avoids return to prison

Pleads no contest in crime-ring case

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / July 2, 2010

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WOBURN — Nine years ago, Peter Limone walked out of prison a free man, vindicated after serving 33 years — 10 of them on death row — for a gangland murder he did not commit. He would later receive a huge cash settlement for the wrong done to him.

Yesterday, he came close to returning to prison, this time for running a Mafia-affiliated crime ring that racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in gambling profits.

Limone, 76, of Medford, allegedly a ranking member of La Cosa Nostra, did not deny that he oversaw the crime ring. He pleaded no contest in Middlesex Superior Court yesterday to 12 counts of extortion, organizing a gambling syndicate, and criminal usury, or loan-sharking.

Prosecutors had wanted him behind bars again, saying, “He alone made the choice to assume the role of an organized crime kingpin.’’

Judge Leila Kern, citing Limone’s age and potential for rehabilitation, decided against prison time. He was ordered to serve five years of probation, with conditions that he stay away from known mob figures and wear an electronic monitoring brace let. The judge sentenced him to 2 1/2 years in the county jail, but that sentence was suspended and will remain so if he complies with his probation term.

Kern said she did not factor in Limone’s wrongful conviction when she made her decision. “It is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,’’ she said.

Limone’s lawyer, Juliane Balliro, promised that her client would live up to the judge’s belief that he could leave his life of crime.

“There is another side to Mr. Limone, and I can assure you what the court will see this day forward is a complete change in lifestyle,’’ she said.

Limone, dressed in a suit and tie, left the courtroom in silence with his head down — a contrast to the scene three years ago, when he and Joseph Salvati and the families of two other men who had died in prison walked out of a federal courtroom with, collectively, a $101.7 million award for the decades they spent in prison. Limone’s share: $26 million, plus interest.

They were wrongfully convicted for the 1965 killing of Edward “Teddy’’ Deegan, a small-time hoodlum in Chelsea. Federal hearings exposed an FBI coverup of the protection of mob figures who played a role in the killing, resulting in the wrongful conviction. The judgment is believed to be the largest of its kind in history.

The money is in the process of being disbursed. Lawyers were in federal court yesterday in a separate proceeding seeking attorneys’ fees as part of the case.

But court records indicate that Limone resumed a life of crime not long after he was released from prison in 2001 and returned to his wife and four children.

He assumed a leading role in a gambling ring that operated in Boston and its surrounding suburbs, where he was referred to through code names such as “The Camera Guy’’ and “Chief Crazy Horse,’’ according to court records.

The Limone crime ring collected thousands of dollars in gambling profits and extorted 50 percent of earnings from other rings, the documents say.

Limone was also a loan shark, collecting 2 percent interest on debts, or 280 percent annually, authorities said.

At one point, according to court records, he was heard on electronic surveillance trying to collect a debt.

“This defendant played a primary leadership role in this extensive organized crime ring, responsible for victimizing and extorting people, taking advantage of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities by promoting and operating illegal betting rings, and loan-sharking throughout Greater Boston,’’ Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone said yesterday in a statement.

In all, 20 people were indicted as part of an investigation by Leone’s office and the State Police Special Services Section in 2008. Three other leading members of Limone’s organization — Thomas Palladino, 77, of Malden; Joseph DiPrizio, 52, of Florida; and Anthony Squillante, 76, of Boston — have pleaded not guilty. Their cases are pending.

Police seized $26,000 in a raid of Limone’s home in March 2008. Court records say he collected regular payments of $1,000 or more that were deposited into his bank account.

Limone, though he did not have a steady job, collected more than $178,000 since his release in 2001, according to court records.

In that time, prosecutors said, Limone returned to the same neighborhood and met with some of the same people he knew when he was rising through the ranks of La Cosa Nostra. He was regularly seen at a butcher shop and a coffee shop in the North End, receiving visits from convicted members of the Mafia, according to court records.

His probation terms ban him from having contact with New England Mafia figures.

Thomas J. Foley, a retired State Police colonel who investigated organized crime, said yesterday that Limone’s arrest and conviction illustrates the strong tendency of crime figures to return to their old ways.

“I don’t know what drives them back in there, but some of these guys for some reason enjoy the life,’’ Foley said. “It’s hard to understand, especially with what he’s been through, what drove him back into his life.’’

Foley said that the Mafia still plays a role in the area’s criminal scene, but that leading figures have been arrested and law enforcement agencies have been able to identify its rising stars before the mob can establish the kind of structure it had decades ago.

Law enforcement officials have focused on figures who are released from jail and return to the streets, he said. While Limone was vindicated in the 1965 murder, it does not mean he was never involved in organized crime, Foley said.

“It isn’t just because of their past reputation,’’ he said. “It doesn’t take long for law enforcement to find out who’s involved in what, who’s taking over, and what structure is being put in place. These guys aren’t just being targeted randomly.’’

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.

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