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
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.
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.
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
"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
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,
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
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
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.