FBI had OK from police on Rossetti
Agency wanted to maintain wiretap
The Massachusetts State Police warned the FBI last year that it had learned while tapping the phone of reputed Mafia capo Mark Rossetti that he was an FBI informant, but urged the bureau not to drop him, for fear it would make him suspicious and derail its investigation, according to a joint statement issued by the two agencies yesterday.
The FBI was prepared to end its association with Rossetti after learning he was being targeted by the State Police in alleged criminal activity, according to the statement, “however, the Massachusetts State Police specifically requested the FBI continue its association with the individual for logical strategic reasons in furtherance of the State Police investigation.’’
The two agencies cooperated with each other, with coordination from the US attorney’s office, until the investigation culminated last October in a sweeping state indictment charging Rossetti with overseeing a sprawling enterprise involved in heroin and marijuana trafficking, home invasions, gambling, and loan sharking.
The FBI said it ended its association with Rossetti, 52, of East Boston, after his arrest.
Documents filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court by two men accused of being low-level players in Rossetti’s alleged crime ring revealed that State Police recorded 44 conversations between Rossetti, talking on an FBI-issued phone, and his handler from February to May 2010. The documents do not identify Rossetti by name, but provide descriptions of the informant’s role in the organization that clearly identify him.
The disclosure that Rossetti was working with the FBI at the same time he was being targeted by the State Police, reported by the Globe yesterday, raises questions about how closely the FBI was monitoring him and whether the bureau was aware of the extent of his alleged activities.
When working with informants, agents must follow clear guidelines, which include a requirement that the FBI report any alleged criminal wrongdoing by an informant to federal prosecutors.
Colonel Marian McGovern, head of the State Police, and Richard DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston field office, issued a statement yesterday in response to the Globe report.
“Specifically, the FBI employees responsible for handling this matter did not engage in any inappropriate activity and acted in accordance with Department of Justice and FBI rules,’’ they said. “They demonstrated a high level of integrity and professionalism.’’
The two agencies did not refer to Rossetti by name in the statement. The FBI would not comment on how long he had been an informant.
David Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police, said the agency contacted the FBI as soon as Rossetti was overheard talking to his handler and urged the bureau to keep the information from the handler and allow the association to continue.
“If the handler was notified and there was a change in the normal pattern of behavior between the two of them, the target would suspect something was up, and it would compromise the value of the wire we had up,’’ Procopio said.
Stricter informant guidelines were adopted a decade ago after the bureau’s corrupt relationship with longtime informants and gangsters James “Whitey’’ Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi was exposed.
Yesterday, retired State Police Colonel Thomas Foley, who spearheaded the investigation that led to murder charges against Bulger and Flemmi, criticized the FBI’s decision to recruit Rossetti as an informant, citing his high-ranking status in the New England Mafia.
“After everything that we have been through with the Bulger case, nothing has been learned, and nothing has been changed,’’ Foley said.
Rossetti “has been a player for a long time,’’ Foley said. “He has been involved in some very serious crimes. . . . How do you balance what he has been out there doing with what kind of information he’s been providing?’’
Foley said it is critical to use informants who are providing information about criminals who are at higher level than themselves.
“You don’t deal down; you deal up,’’ Foley said.
Former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan said the informant guidelines allow agents to use high-ranking members of organized crime as informants, but there are added layers of oversight for handling them.
“You need to make an assessment of what value does the informant bring,’’ Sullivan said. “Can they provide information that gets at the heart of a criminal organization, helps solve unsolved crimes, or provides evidence that takes some dangerous targets off the street? It very much has to be case-specific, but you can’t rule out the value of signing up a high-ranking echelon informant.’’
Sullivan said informants are critically important to all law enforcement agencies.
“I think most people look at them as a necessary evil within their various agencies,’’ he said.
Rossetti was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 1983 for the $300,000 robbery the previous year of an armored truck outside a bank in Revere. In 2001, he was sentenced to 51 months in federal court for being a felon in possession of a weapon.
The Suffolk Superior Court documents that disclosed his informant status were filed by Boston attorney Robert A. George on behalf of his clients Joseph Giallanella and Michael Petrillo, two alleged players in Rossetti’s crime ring. They are seeking to have evidence gathered from the State Police wiretaps suppressed based on Rossetti’s relationship with the FBI.
According to the court filing, Rossetti and his handler discussed possible involvement of Rossetti’s cousin in the 1990 art heist at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. They also discussed other Mafia figures and Rossetti’s debt collections.
James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University, said, “There’s information you can get from informants that you can’t get from anywhere else.’’
But “the issue is you can’t rely too heavily on them,’’ he said. “There’s always issue with the reliability of their information, and law enforcement should work to do its own investigation other than rely on the testimony of nefarious individuals.’’