Earlier this year, Accuracy in Media reported on the case of Joseph Salvati, who spent nearly thirty years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. False, uncorroborated testimony by an FBI informant convicted Salvati in 1968 of murder. Salvati was finally freed in 1997 after Boston WBZ-TV reporter Dan Rea uncovered old police records that exonerated him.
Salvati was framed by an informant recruited by two FBI agents working out of the Boston office, Paul Rico and Dennis Condon. Rico is alleged to have coached the informant extensively before Salvati’s trial. At the time, a Boston district attorney praised the agents’ role as “instrumental in obtaining the convictions” of Salvati and three other innocent men. At a recent congressional hearing investigating the miscarriage of justice, Rico showed no remorse for putting Salvati behind bars. “What do you want, tears or something?” he replied to questions about Salvati.
But Salvati may get the last laugh. Former FBI agent Rico has now been arrested on charges of murder and murder conspiracy. The charges were filed in Oklahoma and Rico could face the death penalty, if convicted. Rico is alleged to have played a role in the 1981 murder of a Tulsa businessman, Roger Wheeler. Wheeler owned World Jai Alai and Rico had taken a job as head of security there after his retirement from the Bureau in 1975.
At the 2002 trial of another rogue Boston FBI agent, John Connelly, Jr., Wheeler’s killer told the court that Rico “had approached him” about the murder. Fox Butterworth, in the New York Times, writes that the killer testified that Rico had provided him a physical description of the victim, his home address, and make and license plate number of his car. A year before that trial, Tulsa police presented an affidavit seeking charges against Rico and others in Wheeler’s murder. Butterworth says, “No charges were filed.”
But now another of Rico’s informants, Stephen Flemmi “has ratted out his longtime friend and guardian angel at the FBI” according to the Boston Herald. The Herald reports that Flemmi cut a deal with a Tulsa district attorney to avoid a possible death sentence for ordering Wheeler’s murder. The Times and others report that Flemmi corroborated the earlier allegations about Rico’s role in the murder. The Boston Globe also reported that Flemmi may implicate other FBI agents and some twenty local area policemen.
The Globe quoted a gang associate of Flemmi’s as saying “Christmas is for cops and kids” and said the gang gave gifts each year to FBI agents and envelopes with $100 to $200 cash to policemen. In return, gang members were shielded by Rico and others. Salvati’s lawyer said Rico’s arrest is “huge.” “Rico is an insider player,” he told the Times, “He knows a lot of the criminal doings in the FBI when he was there.” The Herald’s Jonathan Wells wrote that Flemmi’s plea bargain “may be the final, spectacular act of treachery in a decades-long relationship between an FBI agent and a mobster built on a series of cynical and self-serving manipulations of the criminal justice system.”