Ex-mobster reportedly strikes deal
Gains leniency by implicating Flemmi, Bulger
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff, 9/09/1999
John Martorano, a ruthless hit man who has admitted killing 20 people --
including a Tulsa millionaire and a pair of unwitting Roxbury teenagers --
could walk free in less than eight years under a deal secretly approved by
prosecutors from Massachusetts, Florida, and Oklahoma, according to sources
familiar with the case.
In a world where criminals cut deals by trading up, Martorano, 58, has
offered after more than a year of negotiations to give up two notorious
gangsters who betrayed him for years while working as FBI informants: fugitive
South Boston crime boss James J. ``Whitey'' Bulger and Stephen ``The
Martorano, a former member of Somerville's Winter Hill Gang along with
Bulger and Flemmi, is willing to reveal his own role in a string of unsolved
slayings spanning three decades and three states, apparently in the hope that
he can bring Bulger and Flemmi down with him.
While Martorano admits to murders in two states that carry the death
penalty -- Florida and Oklahoma -- he has been assured that he'll never go to
trial on those charges. Both states, however, have the right to call Martorano
as a witness if anyone else implicated in the slayings goes to trial, the
Globe has been told.
The deal comes 14 months after Martorano first broke ranks with Bulger and
Flemmi and offered to cooperate in exchange for leniency.
His cooperation comes at a critical time. Martorano has agreed to plead
guilty to January 1995 racketeering charges just days before US District Judge
Mark L. Wolf is expected to rule on a defense request to drop the case against
him, Bulger, Flemmi, reputed New England Mob boss Francis ``Cadillac Frank''
Salemme, and Robert DeLuca amid evidence of FBI corruption and misconduct.
Flemmi has alleged that he and Bulger -- both longtime FBI informants --
were promised immunity by the FBI in exchange for leaking information to the
bureau about their Mafia rivals.
Martorano has refused to meet with the FBI, but has spent hundreds of hours
being interviewed by the Massachusetts State Police, the US Drug Enforcement
Administration, and more recently by investigators from Oklahoma and Florida,
according to sources.
Earlier this year, Martorano's brother, Jimmy, who is serving a 15-month
prison term on racketeering charges, said his brother stepped forward to stop
Bulger and Flemmi from using the FBI to blame others for things they had done.
``I don't think anyone in this case is contending they were an angel,''
Jimmy Martorano said in an interview earlier this year. ``But we weren't
informants and we didn't do things and blame other people for them. Stevie and
Whitey were the biggest criminals of all.''
Under the deal, Martorano will plead guilty to federal racketeering,
race-fixing, bookmaking, and extortion charges that have been pending against
him since January 1995 in federal court in Boston. And he'll also plead guilty
to a newly crafted federal ``information'' charging him with being part of a
gangland racketeering enterprise that involved 10 murders, according to
Accomplices to most of those murders are identified as ``John Doe 1 and
John Doe 2,'' but sources identified them as Bulger and Flemmi.
Prosecutors have agreed to recommend that Martorano be sentenced to 12 1/2
to 15 years in prison. But since Martorano has already spent nearly five years
in jail awaiting trial in the racketeering case, he'll get credit for time
served. He could be a free man in eight to 10 1/2 years.
The agreement has been approved by Boston attorney Francis J. DiMento Sr.,
who represents Martorano, US Attorney Donald K. Stern, Suffolk District
Attorney Ralph C. Martin II, Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley,
Miami-Dade County Attorney Robert A. Ginsburg, and Tulsa District Attorney Tim
Harris, sources said.
None of the parties involved in the delicate, secret negotiations would
comment yesterday, but relatives of some of the victims said that Martorano's
confessions would bring closure.
As with any deal, the sentencing judge -- in Martorano's case Wolf -- is
not compelled to go along with it. But if Wolf refuses to sentence Martorano
within the 12 1/2-to-15-year range agreed upon by his lawyer and prosecutors,
then Martorano has the right to withdraw his guilty plea and the deal would be
Investigators would be prohibited from using any of the information
Martorano provided to the State Police and the DEA to build cases against him
or anyone else.
It is a stunning deal, observers say, the likes of which haven't been seen
in Boston's underworld since 1968, when Joseph ``The Animal'' Barboza admitted
killing 26 people, but served less than a year in prison after testifying
against the hierarchy of the New England Mafia. He was gunned down in San
Francisco in 1976 by avenging mobsters from Boston.
Martorano has confessed to killing even more people than the nation's most
celebrated mobster-turned-government witness, Gambino family underboss
Salvatore ``Sammy the Bull'' Gravano.
By Martorano's own admission, according to sources, he pumped a bullet into
Roger Wheeler's head on May 27, 1981, just after the millionaire chairman of
Telex Corp. and owner of World Jai Alai had finished a round of golf at the
Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa.
Sources said Martorano has implicated the late Winter Hill Gang member
Joseph McDonald as his accomplice in the slaying. But, sources said, Martorano
contends the murder was orchestrated in Boston by Bulger and Flemmi, who were
FBI informants at the time.
The FBI's handling of the Wheeler murder investigation has come under heavy
criticism from state authorities.
Eight months after Wheeler's murder, Winter Hill Gang member Brian Halloran
told FBI agents in Boston that the plot had been orchestrated by Bulger,
Flemmi, and former World Jai Alai president John Callahan of Winchester.
Halloran told the FBI that Callahan had asked him to help kill Wheeler because
Wheeler suspected that the Winter Hill Gang was using employees who remained
loyal to Callahan to skim profits from the company's frontons in Florida and
Halloran said he didn't participate in the murder, but identified John
Martorano as the triggerman and said Bulger and Flemmi were at the scene in
The FBI refused a deal with Halloran, concluding he wasn't credible. He was
fatally gunned down on May 11, 1982, on Boston's waterfront.
Then, on Aug. 3, 1982, Callahan's bullet-riddled body was found in the
trunk of a Cadillac at Miami International Airport.
Sources said Martorano has admitted killing Callahan as well and provided
investigators with information about Halloran's slaying.
In the days after Wheeler's slaying, investigators speculated it was the
work of a professional hit man who coolly executed the crime and fled without
They were right about the killer. By then, Martorano had already killed 17
men and a woman in Massachusetts, according to sources.
Most were swift, a gunshot wound to the head. And most were victims of
gangland feuds. But others were innocent victims, people caught in the wrong
place or involved with the wrong people.
Some murders Martorano did alone. Some, he alleges, were with the help of
Bulger and Flemmi. And others, he says, were done at Bulger and Flemmi's
Martorano has admitted that he killed for the first time when he was 24,
just six years after graduating from Milton High School, where he co-captained
the football team.
That victim, Robert Palladino, 32, of Winchester, had testified before a
Suffolk grand jury that indicted Martorano's brother, Jimmy, for being an
accessory in the murder of a young waitress whose body was stashed in the loft
of a restaurant owned by the Martorano family.
Palladino, who had allegedly been a suspect in the murder of the waitress,
was found dead under the Central Artery near North Station on Nov. 15, 1964.
He had been shot behind the ear.
The following year, according to sources, Martorano killed another man who
testified before the same grand jury. John Jackson, a bartender, was gunned
down outside his Back Bay apartment.
Then on Jan. 6, 1968, came perhaps the most brutal killings of all.
The man Martorano was gunning for was Herbert ``Smitty'' Smith, an
assistant manager at the Basin Street South nightclub in Boston's South End,
who apparently had gotten into an underworld beef, according to sources. But
when Smith arrived for a meeting with Martorano, he had two passengers in his
car, Elizabeth Dickson, 19, and Douglas Barrett, 17. Martorano has admitted
killing all three with gunshots to the head, according to sources.
When police arrived, they found the three inside a car parked on Normandy
Street in Roxbury, a cigarette still smoldering in Dickson's hand.
There were other innocent victims as well. Michael Milano, a bartender at a
North Station nightspot, was mistaken for the club's owner by Martorano and
other gunmen who sprayed his Mercedes-Benz with gunfire at a Brighton traffic
light on March 8, 1973, sources said.
Milano, 30, was killed and his two passengers injured.
Milano was one of five people Martorano murdered in 1973, according to
The killings stopped for awhile when Martorano fled Massachusetts in 1978
to evade a race-fixing indictment. He remained a fugitive until his arrest in
Boca Raton, Fla., in 1995.
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 09/09/1999.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.