Bureau's dirty star founded original trenchcoat mafia
By Tom Mashberg
Sunday, January 18, 2004
They say H. Paul Rico was one of J. Edgar Hoover's favorite G-men - a law enforcement hellion who had it in for the Mafia and could turn an informant like a flapjack.
But the real Harold Paul Rico was in evidence in 1968, the day after a group of four Italian-Americans from Boston were sent up for life for knocking off a small-potatoes Irish-American thief and gunsel, Edward ``Teddy'' Deegan.
The prosecution of the four - Joseph Salvati, Peter Limone, Henry Tameleo and Louis Greco - was a trumped-up case allegedly set in motion by Rico and his key hand-picked turncoat hood, murderous Joseph ``the Animal'' Barboza.
Of the four Italian fall guys sentenced, only Greco - a double Bronze Star recipient for his World War II heroics at Bataan in the Philippines - had a bronze-clad alibi: Multiple witnesses put him in Florida the night of Deegan's killing.
Rico and his FBI confederate, agent Dennis Condon, showed up at the Central Auto Body Shop in Boston, where local Mafia kingpin Frances ``Cadillac Frank'' Salemme held court, to gloat about how easily they sent the four pigeons up the river.
Rico, according to law enforcement documents reviewed by the Herald, began to chuckle to Salemme about Greco in particular - about how funny it was that Greco was on death row when he in fact had been tanning in Miami when the hit went down.
Salemme, the documents show, ``blew his top'' at the two feckless G-men, Rico in particular, whom he saw as a ``rackets guy'' and a ``rogue agent'' who indulged in booze and horse racing and ``on one occasion wrecked his FBI vehicle while at the track'' - a wreck Salemme arranged to have fixed for no charge on the q.t.
Salemme was legendary for never ratting on his cohorts - and was foolish enough to include on that list informants James J. ``Whitey'' Bulger and Stephen ``the Rifleman'' Flemmi, two of the criminals who spent years conspiring with Rico and others to let some thugs prevail over others in Boston.
But even Salemme drew a line at Rico - a man he described as venal and arrogant, a man who sought revenge against gangsters when he heard them on wiretaps joking that Rico was a homosexual partner to J. Edgar Hoover himself.
Rico may have written his own epitaph in October 2003, when he was asked to justify the wrongful jailing of Greco, et al. by a U.S. House Judiciary Committee looking into the Boston FBI's corrupt past. Greco died in prison and as a result his conviction remains in place.``What do you want, tears?'' Rico, 78, said with a smirk.
Rico and convicted former FBI agent John J. Connolly were later named in a lawsuit accusing the FBI of withholding evidence that would have freed all four men.
Rico grew up like a typical Boston suburbs kid. A degree in history from Boston College in 1950 led to a career start with the FBI.
He was legendary among his fellow crewcuts for bringing mobsters in from the cold - even though it has been claimed his two top informants, Flemmi and Bulger, were given license to extort, peddle heroin and kill so long as they helped bust up the Italian Mafia and helped Rico look good.
Rico still has fans. Yesterday, John F. Kehoe, an ex-Bay State Public Safety commissioner and an FBI special agent in Boston for 29 years, defended him as ``a very capable and tremendous agent who was very adept at developing informants.
``I don't think he ever did anything that went over the line,'' Kehoe said. ``He stayed within the bounds of the bureau and the regulations that we all lived by.''
But the family of Roger Wheeler has a different view. They believe Rico led Bulger and Flemmi to Wheeler in Tulsa, Okla., in 1981 so Wheeler could be killed for trying to get the two goons out of his Miami-based World Jai Alai pari-mutuel wagering company.
Yet attorney John Cavicchi of East Boston, who has spent decades trying to clear Greco, said even his client would have felt sympathy for the ailing Rico at the end of his days.
``I might be in the minority but I felt sorry for him when I saw how sick he looked,'' Cavicchi said. ``And I'm sure if Louis Greco were alive today, he'd have felt sorry for him and for his family, too.''