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Reputed mobster's admission may cause case to crumble


June 18, 1997
Web posted at: 9:47 p.m. EDT (0147 GMT)

BOSTON (CNN) -- The trial of reputed mob boss Frank "Cadillac" Salemme was thrown into disarray Wednesday when mob journeyman Angelo "Sonny" Mercurio told a U.S. District Court he had been an informant for the FBI.

The dramatic admission came after federal Judge Mark Wolf asked Mercurio if he had been an informant for the FBI in 1989 -- the same year his pals were being wiretapped by the agency. Mercurio, who is serving time in Georgia for marijuana possession, faced a jail sentence for contempt if he did not answer the question.

PEG TYRE's report as seen on CNN

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"Yes," he replied in a loud and clear voice. His disclosure could threaten the government's case against Salemme, the reputed head of the New England Mafia, and four other reputed mobsters.

Mercurio's answer raises questions about whether the Justice Department misled a federal judge to get a wiretap that helped lead to the conviction of other organized crime figures.

Judges will not grant wiretaps if they know authorities have investigative alternatives, such as informers.

"It is an important part of a mosaic that we're going to build to argue that there has been outrageous government misconduct in this case and ask for a retrial," defense attorney John Mitchell said.

Salemme's lawyers say they'll ask that the wiretaps be thrown out. If the judge agrees, the case against Salemme, as well as mobsters already convicted on wiretap evidence, could be in jeopardy.

Judge says government's credibility is at stake

The government's case against Salemme hinges on a wiretap recording of a ceremonial induction into the Patriarca crime family in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1989.

The wiretap information led to convictions against Salemme's alleged predecessor, Raymond "Junior" Patriarca, and several others.

Mercurio's admission proved the FBI lied in sworn statements they used to get permission for the tap. Agents claimed they needed the electronic surveillance of the induction, when instead they had Mercurio on the inside to help them.


"The entire premise and entire foundation of the tap may well be rotten, and the tape will be suppressed," defense attorney Anthony Cardinale said.

It also potentially undermines 20 major mob convictions in New England.

"I think FBI agents have gotten the message from the courts and from Congress that in organized crime cases, anything goes," criminal defense attorney Gerald Shargel said.

Wolf said he will continue to press to see if the FBI obtained other wire taps by providing false information. At issue he says is the credibility of the government in the eyes of its federal judges.

Correspondent Peg Tyre contributed to this report


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