Panel Examines Salvati Case

ByABC News
May 3, 2001, 1:38 PM

May 3 -- A former FBI agent who may have participated in an alleged coverup that led to Joseph Salvati's wrongful imprisonment for nearly 30 years told a congressional panel that he now believes Salvati is innocent.

"I was not convinced he was innocent until today," Paul Rico told the House Committee on Government Reform, which began hearings today on law enforcement practices in Boston, focusing on Salvati's case. Salvati spent almost 30 years in prison for the 1965 mob hit slaying of Edward "Teddy" Deegan, a Massachusetts longshoreman and ex-convict. In January, a federal judge threw out the murder convictions of Salvati and co-defendant Peter Limone for Deegan's slaying.

The judge based her decision on a discovery by the Justice Department, which uncovered reports from an FBI informant that found that FBI agents Rico and Dennis Condon knowingly used false information provided by another informant Joseph "The Animal" Barboza, whose key testimony helped send Salvati and Limone to jail.

Rico testified today against the advice of his attorney, who told him to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Though now convinced of Salvati's innocence, Rico did not apologize to the former prisoner or to the panel. He believes he followed proper procedure in the handling of Barboza.

"Would you like tears or something?" Rico asked. "I believe the FBI handled it properly."

More Disturbing Revelations

Today's hearing was called in response to the allegations in Salvati's case and the search for James "Whitey" Bulger, a former informant and reputed New England crime lord who disappeared six years ago after investigators believe his handler, former agent John Connolly, tipped him off about the FBI's investigation of his alleged crimes. Federal prosecutors believe Connolly allowed Bulger to kill 18 people while he was his informant and Connolly has been charged with obstruction of justice and racketeering.

The committee, presided over by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., hopes to improve guidelines for the handling of informants and find ways to prevent other cases like Salvati's. As the hearings began, Burton apologized to Salvati and said he was disturbed by both the case and a letter he received from FBI director Louis Freeh.