The remarkable thing about some of the books written about Whitey is how little attention is paid to critical things. We sort of jump from Stevie Flemmi being on the lam to Stevie being a member of the Winter Hill Gang. This important time that will shape all future events is given scant attention.
One aspect that has been ignored is that Stevie had pending against him two very serious charges that were the occasion of his flight: the murder of William Bennett that was pending in Suffolk County and the attempted murder of Attorney John Fitzgerald when he blew up his car in Middlesex County. Stevie was not going to come back unless he had an iron clad guarantee that these cases would disappear. You’d think that’d be hard to give him considering the seriousness of the charges.
Frank Salemme who also was charged with blowing up Fitzgerald’s car had been arrested in New York City in November 1972 by FBI Agent John Connolly. Flemmi was tried on those charge in June 1973, the main witness against him being Robert Daddeico. Until Salemme’s case was over nothing could be done to help Stevie.
According to Stevie’s testimony he was happy in Montreal and reluctant to return to Boston. He has it that he was convinced by FBI Agent Rico to come back. Rico told him the groundwork had been laid with the Middlesex and Suffolk DA’s offices so that he would be bailed on the charges of murder and blowing up Attorney John Fitzgerald’s car and eventually get them dismissed. Rico was no longer in Boston but he and his partner FBI Agent Dennis Condon had cultivated a good friendship with Middlesex DA John Droney and Suffolk DA Garrett Byrne. At that time the FBI was revered among Irish Catholic politicians and these agents would have the ear of these DAs.
Of course Flemmi’s story about his reluctance to come back home is a bit of blarney. He wasn’t getting rich in Montreal and since everyone remarks upon Flemmi’s love of money so he’d have jumped at the opportunity to return home and again resume life as a gangster under the protective umbrella of the FBI. And, the FBI was pleased to have him back because he was the only one they had with the juice to interact with the Boston Mafia guys at the highest levels. He was friends with feared Boston Mafia enforcer Larry Baione. He was welcome with open arms by the Patriarca Mafia family which included Underboss Angiulo in Boston for after all his flight was occasioned by his blowing up the car of Fitzgerald at the behest of Raymond L.S. Patriarca, the king of the family.
To suggest that somehow Stevie Flemmi was no longer a top echelon informant for the FBI is to shut one’s eyes to reality. He needed the FBI and it needed him. When Paul Rico went to bat for him with Droney and Byrne he’d have had to have a compelling reason to convince them to let go of those charges. That’s not to say he told them Flemmi was an informant, because I’m convinced Rico and Condon being from the old school and having spent just about all of their careers under the rule of J. Edgar Hoover believed it was a sacred trust imposed upon an FBI agent never to disclose the identity of an informant. They recognized that to do so may very well have undermined the FBI’s ability to function against organized crime. Informants were the FBI’s most effective tool, especially top echelon informants.
Without revealing his status, Rico and Condon went into a full court press mode on both DAs and convinced them of the necessity to put Stevie back on the street. It probably came down to relying on the close bond they had created over the years with those men, Byrne had been DA since 1952 and Drone since 1959; Rico and Condon were FBI agents since 1951, and the trust the DAs would put in the word of these agents. Those were different days.
The problem both men faced in going to bat for Stevie was that they both had put in their time and had plans to retire. Rico would retire from the Miami office within a year, Condon would leave in 1977 for a job on the State Merit Rating Board. It would be necessary to have another FBI agent assume the responsibility for handling and protecting Stevie as had been done by Rico and Condon. Fortunately, they had identified such and agent who had recently been brought back to his hometown thanks to a plan they had put together.
That agent was John Connolly of South Boston.