By Edmund H. Mahoney

May 1, 2010

The tortured legal ordeal of four Boston men wrongly convicted of murder by a cabal of gangsters and corrupt FBI agents apparently ended Friday with a decision by the U.S. Department of Justice not to appeal their record, $100 million wrongful imprisonment verdict to the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers involved in the case said Friday.

The government had not appealed by a 5 p.m. deadline Friday, which lets stand an August 2009 decision by the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals upholding what is believed to be the largest verdict ever awarded in a wrongful imprisonment case, $101.7 million.

The four men spent decades in prison after FBI agents, in a scheme to cultivate mob informants, permitted the fabrication of evidence that led to their wrongful convictions for a 1965 murder.

The Justice Department's decision not to pursue another challenge of the verdict, awarded in July 2007 in Boston by U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner, is the latest in a half-century of legal developments arising in Boston about ruthless mob violence and shocking corruption by key figures in law enforcement. In its opening lines, Gertner's decision spoke of "egregious governmental misconduct," a "bullet-ridden" body, and the FBI's "callous disregard" for the four victims, referred to throughout as "the scapegoats."

Barring unexpected legal developments, the judgment will be divided among Joseph Savati, Peter Limone Sr. and the estates of the two other men, Henry Tameleo and Louis Greco Sr.

Tameleo and Greco died of old age in prison before a sensational series of legal developments beginning in the late 1990s proved that they had been framed by mob turncoats with the knowledge of agents at the highest levels of the FBI.

Three of the victims were reputed organized crime figures in Boston and were believed to have been framed to settle old disputes. Salvati, who had no connection to organized crime, was wrongly implicated in the murder because he had borrowed $400 from one of the turncoats and did not repay it quickly enough.

The FBI agents named in the wrongful imprisonment case were the same figures implicated two decades later in what became a sensational attempt by members of Boston's notorious Winter Hill gang to take over a significant portion of the U.S. parimutuel gambling industry. Oklahoma tycoon Roger Wheeler, whose World Jai Alai company owned the jai alai venue in north Hartford, was one of those shot dead in a conspiracy by then-current and retired FBI agents and mobsters in the takeover attempt.

Salvati's lead attorney in his lawsuit against the federal government was Hartford lawyer Austin J. McGuigan, who was joined in Hartford by his partner Joseph Burns and in Boston by attorney Victor J. Garo, whose early work on the case resulted in Salvati's being freed from prison after more than 30 years in 2001.

McGuigan said Friday that he was encouraged by the government's decision not to appeal. When the 1st Circuit upheld Gertner's damage award, McGuigan called the decision "the greatest experience of my legal career in terms of being able to right a wrong that had been perpetuated for so many years."

The 22-day bench trial before Gertner in 2007 amounted to a painstaking re-creation of events that began with the 1965 murder in Chelsea, Mass., of a nickel-and-dime hoodlum named Edward "Teddy" Deegan.

Salvati and the other victims produced as evidence hundreds of previously secret FBI reports showing that their innocence was widely known in the FBI within minutes of Deegan's murder. Nearly all the reports were routinely forwarded to the office of then-Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Deegan's real killers were the two mob turncoats that the FBI was trying to recruit as informants: Joseph "The Animal" Barboza and James Flemmi. Both were cold-blooded killers. An illegal FBI bug captured Flemmi bragging at about the time of the murder that he wanted to be Boston's most prolific hit man.

After Deegan was riddled with bullets in an unlit alley, FBI agents allowed Barboza to implicate the innocent men on the condition that he become a cooperating witness in a series of late 1960s mob prosecutions. Barboza agreed on the additional condition that his partner be kept out of the Deegan case as well.

In the trial court decision, Gertner wrote that the FBI records, which had been illegally concealed for decades, created a strong case against the bureau: "The FBI agents 'handling' Barboza ... and their superiors - all the way up to the FBI Director - knew that Barboza would perjure himself. They knew this because Barboza, a killer many times over, had told them so - directly and indirectly. Barboza's testimony about the plaintiffs contradicted every shred of evidence in the FBI's possession at the time - and the FBI had extraordinary information."

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