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Mob boss arrested in Florida

Salemme captured quietly; Whitey Bulger still at large

By Kevin Cullen and Ellen O'Brien, Globe Staff, 8/13/1995

Francis P. (Cadillac Frank) Salemme, the reputed boss of the Mafia family that controls most of New England, was arrested late Friday in West Palm Beach, Fla., seven months after he fled in anticipation of his indictment for racketeering.


Capture ends luckless five years at helm
It has not been a good run for Francis P. Salemme. His five-year reign as the reputed head of a largely dysfunctional Mafia family has been, by most accounts, an unmitigated disaster.

FBI agents and local police said they woke up the 61-year-old Salemme and his longtime companion, Donna Wolf, when they knocked on the door of their modest two-story town house shortly before midnight. They said Salemme opened the door and offered no resistance. Wolf was not charged. Investigators said they found plenty of exercise equipment but no weapons in the home.

Authorities said there was no sign of James J. (Whitey) Bulger, the reputed South Boston underworld leader who is the only defendant still at large in the region's biggest racketeering case. After the FBI heard they were looking to skip town before being indicted, Bulger and Salemme eluded authorities who went looking for them Jan. 5.

Investigators doubt that Bulger would purposely hide anywhere near Salemme. But given that two other defendants in the case were captured in the vicinity in the past year, investigators said they would intensify their search in southeastern Florida.

"We knew from general intelligence that Boca Raton and that area had become a haven for wiseguys in the wintertime," said Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Thomas Duffy, part of the Special Services Section, which with the FBI has built the case against the leaders of the Patriarca Mafia family and Winter Hill Gang. "As far as it being a safe haven, I would have thought Frank was smarter."

Salemme, whose tenure has been beset by underworld violence and dissatisfaction with his leadership, was being held in Miami and was scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow morning. He could be returned to Boston to face racketeering charges as early as tomorrow, officials said.

Yesterday, the Fox Network TV show "America's Most Wanted" claimed credit for helping to find Salemme. The show's producers, who featured Salemme in a Jan. 21 episode, said the FBI had told them the arrest was a direct result of a viewer tip. FBI agent Peter DiGieres, a spokesman for the Boston FBI office, was less definitive, saying only that "many of the sightings that were brought to our attention were a result of media attention, particularly 'America's Most Wanted.' "

Wolf, according to sources, had been seen at the June 26 funeral in Walpole of Salemme's son and namesake, who died of lymphoma at age 38. It was unclear if investigators had followed Wolf back to Florida.

Despite his reputation for enjoying the finer things in life, Salemme had settled in the middle-class neighborhood of Sandalwood, on the other side of the tracks of tony Palm Beach. Five miles west of the walled mansions of Donald Trump, Jimmy Buffett and Rod Stewart, Salemme lived in a $600-a-month town house, in a neighborhood described by one West Palm Beach detective as ''a perfect place to be anonymous."

"Most of the people out there don't know their neighbors," the detective said.

One of Salemme's neighbors, however, said he was friendly. The woman, who is disabled, said Salemme often helped carry her groceries. She returned his kindness by complimenting him on his impeccable grooming, including his manicured nails.

The neighbor said she was suspicious of Salemme because he appeared to be wealthy, had a wide-screen TV and never went to work. But she said he had been nothing but gracious to her.

The neighbor said Salemme had developed a routine over the last seven months: working out, sunbathing, and feeding the dozen or so ducks that congregate in the canal outside his home. Yesterday, the ducks waited in vain for their daily meal of bread crumbs.

Behind the six-foot fence that guarded Salemme's town house, blue exercise mats could be seen on the floor. FBI agents and police officers who took Salemme into custody were impressed by his physical condition.

"The guy's in great shape," said FBI agent Paul Miller, speaking from the FBI office in Miami.

Salemme's preoccupation with his physique mirrors that of Bulger and Stephen (The Rifleman) Flemmi, who were the main targets in an investigation that focused on the extortion and protection rackets, bookmaking and money laundering. Flemmi was arrested Jan. 5 at a Financial District restaurant his sons were refurbishing, but Bulger and Salemme got away.

Salemme spent one previous extended period on the lam, after he was charged with the 1968 maiming of John Fitzgerald, a lawyer who represented a mobster- turned-informant. After nearly three years on the run, he was arrested in 1972 in Manhattan, ironically by a South Boston-born FBI agent, John Connolly, who later would come under fire from other law enforcement officials for having a cozy relationship with Bulger.

Investigators were confident that the arrest of Salemme would help them zero in on Bulger, if only because it would free up more resources to focus on him. Indeed, some sources suggested recent tips had been more encouraging on Bulger than Salemme.

"There's no doubt we'll get Whitey," said State Police Sgt. Thomas Foley, head of the Special Services Section. "It's just a matter of time."

Duffy, Foley's colleague, also said Salemme's arrest could help expedite the case. "It may increase the number of people who will consider cooperating with the government, now that he's in custody. People who were concerned about their safety may reconsider," Duffy said.

Already, federal prosecutors say they have lined up an impressive array of witnesses prepared to testify against their former associates. Among them are Burton (Chico) Krantz, the region's preeminent bookmaker, and Paul Moore, the only known South Boston native to implicate Bulger in criminal activity.

While some expressed surprise that Salemme would settle in middle-class West Palm Beach instead of exclusive Palm Beach, perhaps he knew something others didn't. Only recently, the US Commerce Department issued a study projecting that the West Palm Beach metropolitan area will see the United States' most rapid economic growth through the rest of the century.

Shelley Murphy, Geeta Anand and Judy Rakowsky of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page 1 of the Boston Globe on 8/13/1995.
© Copyright 1995 Globe Newspaper Company.

Whitey Bulger
Stephen Flemmi
Frank Salemme
Kevin Weeks
John Martorano
John Connolly
John Morris

Photo gallery
Whitey sightings
Books on Whitey
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1 9 8 8
The Bulger mystique
A look at Boston's famous brothers, William and Whitey.

1 9 9 5
The story of Whitey's fall
How investigators brought down the elusive criminal.

1 9 9 8
Whitey & the FBI
The relationship between Bulger and Boston's law men.

1 9 9 8
Whitey's life on the run
The fugitive mobster's relentless travels across the country.

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