Breaking News Gardner Art Heist Latest:
Reputed mob boss is called FBI informant
Court papers say state was wiretapping Rossettihttp://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/08/12/reputed_mob_boss_rossetti_is_called_fbi_informant/
Mark Rossetti, a reputed Mafia leader who was indicted last year on state charges of running a sprawling criminal enterprise of drug trafficking, gambling, and loan sharking, had been working all along as an informant for the FBI, according to documents filed yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court.
The documents, filed by two lower-level players in Rossetti’s alleged crime ring as part of a legal strategy in their own case, do not identify Rossetti by name. But he can be clearly identified through descriptions of his conversations with his FBI handler, and through a State Police organizational chart of his alleged crime ring, the Rossetti Criminal Organization. Rossetti is a reputed capo in the New England Mafia.
State Police recorded more than 40 conversations between Rossetti and his FBI handler in the spring of 2010, through a wiretap on Rossetti’s FBI-issued phone, according to the court documents. In the conversations, they discussed other Mafia figures and the possible role of Rossetti’s cousin in the 1990 art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, as well as Rossetti’s debt collections. According to the documents, it was during these conversations that State Police discovered Rossetti was an FBI informant.
Rossetti later grew concerned that he was being investigated by the State Police. He revealed to his handler on May 14, 2010, that his phone had been tapped, according to court records.
The disclosure that Rossetti, a high-ranking Mafioso, was working with the FBI at the same time he was being targeted by the State Police raises questions about how closely the FBI was monitoring him and whether the bureau was aware of the extent of his alleged activities.
The complete nature of Rossetti’s relationship with the FBI was not immediately clear yesterday.
When working with informants, the bureau is required to follow clear guidelines that restrict what the informant may do.
Gregory Comcowich, a spokesman for the FBI’s Boston office, said last night that he was aware of the court filings but would not comment on details of Rossetti’s relationship with the bureau.
“The Department of Justice rules require us to report criminal wrongdoing by any of our sources,’’ he said. “The FBI followed those guidelines.’’
According to court documents, Rossetti expected to be spared from prosecution for the crimes he committed with the FBI’s knowledge, but he worried for his safety if it appeared he was getting special treatment from authorities.“In a compelling exchange, [Rossetti] states . . . he knows he will be protected for the crimes he has been committing with the knowledge of his handler but that he is concerned about the appearance of his not being sent to prison if everyone else in the upcoming case is incarcerated and whether he will be forced to testify before a grand jury,’’ one court filing states.
“His handler promises that [Rossetti’s] safety is his biggest concern and that he will deal with the fallout from the upcoming state wiretap [this wiretap] as it progresses.’’
The conversations continue, with Rossetti calling his handler asking for permission to meet with loan collectors, to back off other collections, and to aid people who needed him to intercede with other criminals on their behalf.
His handler tells him on several occasions that he must file the proper paperwork before he “makes his next move.’’
Stricter FBI guidelines were adopted a decade ago after the bureau’s scandalous relationship with longtime informants and gangsters James “Whitey’’ Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi was exposed, requiring more oversight of the agent-informant relationship.
Rossetti’s lawyer on the state charges, Randi Potash, argued that there is no public proof that her client worked as an informant.
“I urge you not to print something very dangerous, not based on facts, and that’s my comment,’’ she said. “It’s not based on public information, it’s not based on facts. It’s hurtful, and I urge you not to print it.’’
The FBI’s mishandling of longtime informants Bulger and Flemmi was exposed in federal court hearings in Boston in 1998, triggering a national scandal resulting in congressional hearings, the revision of the informant guidelines, and an avalanche of lawsuits brought by victims’ families.
Flemmi is serving a life sentence for 10 murders and Bulger is awaiting trial on charges that he killed 19 people, most while he was an FBI informant.
Bulger was arrested June 22 in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years in hiding.
State prosecutors described Rossetti as a violent gangster when they indicted him in October 2010 on charges he ran a criminal enterprise with the involvement of at least 30 other people.
The investigation, conducted by troopers assigned to the State Police Special Services Section, involved the execution of 30 search warrants and the seizure of $1.3 million in cash from extortion cases, $120,000 in alleged drug money, more than a kilo of heroin, a heroin press, 200 pounds of marijuana, a pipe bomb, two bulletproof vests, a rifle, a loaded handgun, and five motor vehicles.
One of the men charged was Darin Bufalino of Winthrop, Rossetti’s alleged “soldier.’’ He pleaded not guilty to attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit attempted extortion, and being a habitual offender.
The Suffolk Superior Court records were filed by Boston attorney Robert A. George on behalf of his clients Joseph Giallanella and Michael Petrillo, two alleged players in Rossetti’s crime ring.
They are seeking to have charges dismissed based on Rossetti’s relationship with the FBI.
According to the documents, they argued that any evidence obtained in relation to Rossetti should be dismissed because his relationship to investigators was not disclosed to judges who approved wiretaps and search warrants.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com
FBI had OK from police on Rossetti
Agency wanted to maintain wiretapThe Massachusetts State Police warned the FBI last year that it had learned while tapping the phone of reputed Mafia capo Mark Rossetti that he was an FBI informant, but urged the bureau not to drop him, for fear it would make him suspicious and derail its investigation, according to a joint statement issued by the two agencies yesterday.
The FBI was prepared to end its association with Rossetti after learning he was being targeted by the State Police in alleged criminal activity, according to the statement, “however, the Massachusetts State Police specifically requested the FBI continue its association with the individual for logical strategic reasons in furtherance of the State Police investigation.’’
The two agencies cooperated with each other, with coordination from the US attorney’s office, until the investigation culminated last October in a sweeping state indictment charging Rossetti with overseeing a sprawling enterprise involved in heroin and marijuana trafficking, home invasions, gambling, and loan sharking.
The FBI said it ended its association with Rossetti, 52, of East Boston, after his arrest.
Documents filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court by two men accused of being low-level players in Rossetti’s alleged crime ring revealed that State Police recorded 44 conversations between Rossetti, talking on an FBI-issued phone, and his handler from February to May 2010. The documents do not identify Rossetti by name, but provide descriptions of the informant’s role in the organization that clearly identify him.
The disclosure that Rossetti was working with the FBI at the same time he was being targeted by the State Police, reported by the Globe yesterday, raises questions about how closely the FBI was monitoring him and whether the bureau was aware of the extent of his alleged activities.
When working with informants, agents must follow clear guidelines, which include a requirement that the FBI report any alleged criminal wrongdoing by an informant to federal prosecutors.
Colonel Marian McGovern, head of the State Police, and Richard DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston field office, issued a statement yesterday in response to the Globe report.
“Specifically, the FBI employees responsible for handling this matter did not engage in any inappropriate activity and acted in accordance with Department of Justice and FBI rules,’’ they said. “They demonstrated a high level of integrity and professionalism.’’
The two agencies did not refer to Rossetti by name in the statement. The FBI would not comment on how long he had been an informant.
David Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police, said the agency contacted the FBI as soon as Rossetti was overheard talking to his handler and urged the bureau to keep the information from the handler and allow the association to continue.
“If the handler was notified and there was a change in the normal pattern of behavior between the two of them, the target would suspect something was up, and it would compromise the value of the wire we had up,’’ Procopio said.
Stricter informant guidelines were adopted a decade ago after the bureau’s corrupt relationship with longtime informants and gangsters James “Whitey’’ Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi was exposed.
Yesterday, retired State Police Colonel Thomas Foley, who spearheaded the investigation that led to murder charges against Bulger and Flemmi, criticized the FBI’s decision to recruit Rossetti as an informant, citing his high-ranking status in the New England Mafia.
“After everything that we have been through with the Bulger case, nothing has been learned, and nothing has been changed,’’ Foley said.
Rossetti “has been a player for a long time,’’ Foley said. “He has been involved in some very serious crimes. . . . How do you balance what he has been out there doing with what kind of information he’s been providing?’’
Foley said it is critical to use informants who are providing information about criminals who are at higher level than themselves.
“You don’t deal down; you deal up,’’ Foley said.
Former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan said the informant guidelines allow agents to use high-ranking members of organized crime as informants, but there are added layers of oversight for handling them.
“You need to make an assessment of what value does the informant bring,’’ Sullivan said. “Can they provide information that gets at the heart of a criminal organization, helps solve unsolved crimes, or provides evidence that takes some dangerous targets off the street? It very much has to be case-specific, but you can’t rule out the value of signing up a high-ranking echelon informant.’’
Sullivan said informants are critically important to all law enforcement agencies.
“I think most people look at them as a necessary evil within their various agencies,’’ he said.
Rossetti was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 1983 for the $300,000 robbery the previous year of an armored truck outside a bank in Revere. In 2001, he was sentenced to 51 months in federal court for being a felon in possession of a weapon.
The Suffolk Superior Court documents that disclosed his informant status were filed by Boston attorney Robert A. George on behalf of his clients Joseph Giallanella and Michael Petrillo, two alleged players in Rossetti’s crime ring. They are seeking to have evidence gathered from the State Police wiretaps suppressed based on Rossetti’s relationship with the FBI.
According to the court filing, Rossetti and his handler discussed possible involvement of Rossetti’s cousin in the 1990 art heist at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. They also discussed other Mafia figures and Rossetti’s debt collections.
James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University, said, “There’s information you can get from informants that you can’t get from anywhere else.’’
But “the issue is you can’t rely too heavily on them,’’ he said. “There’s always issue with the reliability of their information, and law enforcement should work to do its own investigation other than rely on the testimony of nefarious individuals.’’Gardner Art Heist Theory
It was a cold winter afternoon in 1998, nearly eight years after the theft of 13 priceless artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the FBI finally had some good news for Anne Hawley, the museum director.
As they walked the bare grounds that surround the museum that February day, Special Agent W. Thomas Cassano told Hawley, according to notes made after the conversation: “It looks like we know who did it. One is in jail, one is dead, and one is on the street.”
The FBI, Cassano said, had picked up the Gardner trail during an undercover operation targeting Dorchester crime boss Carmello Merlino. Word was that Merlino, along with three South Shore men, had been responsible for the historic heist
And so the agency went all out. One of the three Merlino confederates was dead, but they pressed the other two hard. Agents put an undercover informant in the jail cell of one, Peter Boylan of Weymouth, and later offered to drop federal charges against the other, David Turner of Braintree, if he would tell what he knew.
The men kept their silence, and the investigation, in the end, didn’t yield much. Like so many other apparent clues to what remains the largest unsolved art theft in history, this one led to an apparent cul-de-sac.
Turner and the others are in the news again, courtesy of a new book that identifies Turner as the most likely subject. But the reality is more complicated and elusive, which is ever the way with this case. If claims of proof were the same as proof, the Gardner would have had its paintings back years ago.
Still, there are aspects of the Turner-Merlino tale that remained tantalizing, even as the trail grew cold.
A member of Boylan’s family told the Globe in 2006 that the FBI focus was drawn to Peter Boylan, the son of a Boston police officer, after the young man engaged in idle and baseless boasting about the theft while in a jail cell.
Turner’s lawyer, Robert Goldstein of Boston, said his client has repeatedly denied having anything to do with the Gardner theft. Goldstein questioned why Turner, who is now serving a 30-year prison sentence after being convicted of armed robbery in 2001, would not cooperate with authorities and seek a reduction in sentence.
But while the several FBI agents who have been assigned the case have worked tirelessly chasing tips – the latest being searching without luck two possible stash houses in Maine and Dedham – the investigation has lacked a major commitment of manpower and coordinated strategy. The probe now rests primarily with one FBI agent who is also responsible for investigating other major thefts covered by the Bureau’s Boston office.
In addition, the FBI’s decision to handle the case entirely on its own, without the assistance of local and Massachusetts State Police, has undercut the probe’s effectiveness, according to local and State Police officers. For example, even though State and South Shore police coordinated a drug investigation that kept Merlino, Turner, and others under surveillance during the 18 months before and after the Gardner heist, the assistance of those officers was never sought by the FBI working the Gardner case.
Had they, they might have learned that the surveillance showed that Turner’s girlfriend was telling callers that he was on a “mini-vacation” in Florida during February and March 1990. While in Miami, three days before the Gardner robbery, Turner purchased $645 worth of unspecified merchandise from the Spy Shops International in Miami, a store that specialized in the sale of undercover and electronic surveillance equipment. Also viewed by the Globe was a receipt that showed Turner’s American Express card was used in Fort Lauderdale on the return of a leased car on March 20, 1990, two days after the robbery. While the receipt appears to be signed by Turner, another person’s Social Security card number is written on the receipt, which investigators say suggests someone other than Turner might have been using his credit card that day. Goldstein, Turner’s lawyer, declined comment on the documents.
In addition, Turner was observed by police surveillance in September 1991 carrying an “Oriental vase” from his car into the Boston office of Alfred Sollitto, a lawyer with whom he had become acquainted. Among the 13 items stolen from the Gardner Museum was a vase-like, Chinese bronze beaker. Sollitto acknowledged in an interview that he was a friend of Turner’s but could not recall Turner ever bringing a vase to his office.
On paper, too, the focus on Turner and his comrades made some sense.
Turner was tough, smart, and aggressive and in the months before and after the March 18, 1990 theft at the Gardner, he had pulled off two armed robberies of homes in Canton and Tewksbury. When his two associates in those crimes began cooperating with authorities, both were killed. No one has been charged in the murders, though police questioned Turner about them.
Although he grew up in middle-class Braintree, Turner, according to police, aspired to make it as a mobster. His ticket to that netherworld was provided by Merlino, a convicted drug dealer who ran an auto body shop in Dorchester, and had been aligned with organized crime figures Francis (Cadillac Frank) Salemme and his brother John (Action Jackson) Salemme, since the early 1960s.
Through Merlino, Turner might have learned something about vulnerabilities of the Gardner from Ralph Rossetti, the patriarch of an East Boston crime family, who was friendly with Merlino and had plotted to attack the museum in 1981. FBI agents held an emergency meeting with museum officials in September 1981 and told them Rossetti and another career criminal were planning to throw smoke bombs into the museum during a Tuesday night chamber music performance and in the ensuing chaos speed through the galleries and steal priceless paintings.
Although the pair were not prosecuted for that plot, they were convicted of breaking into a Newton home a few months before the planned Gardner robbery and stealing 23 valued paintings, rare coins, and jewelry.
Ralph Rossetti died in 1998, but Merlino stayed in contact with his family members. The following year he called on Stephen Rossetti of East Boston, Ralph Rossetti’s nephew, to join him in robbing the Loomis-Fargo armored car warehouse in Easton of $50 million.
Turner was the fourth member of the gang.
Turner has also been the focus of some intriguing jail house whispers about the Gardner case. Robert Beauchamp, who is serving a life sentence in MCI-Norfolk, says Turner, accompanied by an associate George Reissfelder, visited him in prison in 1991 and Reissfelder told him they had pulled off the robbery and that the Gardner paintings had been hidden in a house in Maine.
The Loomis-Fargo heist was foiled when the FBI became aware of the scheme through an undercover informant and arrested them before they could reach their target. According Martin Leppo, a Brockton lawyer who represented Merlino and Turner in the past, FBI agents approached both men after their arrests in their holding cells and told them that if they would cooperate on the museum case, the charges against them would be reduced or dropped.
Both maintained their silence then and at trial, and received long prison sentences. Merlino died at age 71 in federal prison in 2005 without providing useful information to the authorities on the Gardner theft. Turner, whom Leppo nicknamed “Hollywood” because of his boyish good looks, is not due to be released until 2032, when he will be 65 years old. “These are not men who cooperate easily,” Leppo said. “Not unless they have nowhere else to turn.”
Art Hostage Comments:
Knowing who committed the Gardner Art Heist does not recover the Gardner Art.
Authorities have been turning a blind eye to many serious crimes over the years in Boston so why not turn a blind eye to the Gardner art coming home ?
Art Hostage does not seek a single dime from any reward offered by the Gardner Museum.
Time for everybody to hold their collective noses and allow the Gardner Art to surface.
Remember for every criminal Italian American there are one hundred honest, hardworking, decent, honourable and patriotic Italian Americans, Charles Vincent Sabba and Anthony Amore to name but two.