U.S. Told to Pay $101 Million for Framing 4 Men
BOSTON, July 26 — In what appears to be the largest sum of money ever awarded to people who were wrongfully convicted, a judge today ordered the federal government to pay $101.8 million to make amends for framing four men for a murder they did not commit.
Two of the men died in prison after being falsely convicted in the 1965 gangland murder. Another, Peter Limone, spent 33 years in jail before he was exonerated in 2001. The fourth, Joseph Salvati, spent 29 years in prison.
“It took 30 years to uncover this injustice,” Federal District Judge Nancy Gertner said in announcing her decision. She said the case was about “the framing of innocent men,” adding that “F.B.I. officials allowed their employees up the line to ruin lives.”
The men were exonerated after the discovery of secret F.B.I. memos that were never turned over to state prosecutors or defense lawyers during the trial in 1968. The memos indicated that the government’s key witness, a hit man for the mob named Joseph “The Animal” Barboza, had lied when he said the four men had killed the victim, a low-level mobster, Edward Deegan, known as Teddy.
Mr. Barboza’s motivation was to protect the real killer, and F.B.I. officials went along, the memos suggested, because Mr. Barboza had been helping them solve cases and because the killer, Vincent Flemmi, was an F.B.I. informant.
In her decision today, Judge Gertner forcefully criticized the F.B.I. and the argument made by Justice Department lawyers that federal authorities were not required to share information with state prosecutors, and were not responsible for the results of a state prosecution.
“The government’s position is, in a word, absurd,” Judge Gertner said.
A spokesman for the Justice Department, Charles Miller, said the government would review the judge’s decision before deciding whether to appeal.
In their suit, the men had argued that Boston FBI agents knew that Mr. Barboza lied when he named the men as killers in the 1965 killing. They said Mr. Barboza was protecting a fellow F.B.I. informant, Vincent Flemmi, who was involved in the hit, according to The Associated Press.
The four wrongly convicted men were treated as “acceptable collateral damage” because the F.B.I.’s priority at the time was taking down the Mafia, their lawyers said.
A Justice Department lawyer had argued that federal authorities could not be held responsible for the results of a state prosecution and had no duty to share information with the officials who prosecuted Mr. Limone, Mr. Salvati, Henry Tameleo and Louis Greco, The A.P. said.
The judge awarded $26 million to Mr. Limone, $29 million to Mr. Salvati, $13 million to Mr. Tameleo’s estate and $28 million to Mr. Greco’s estate, as well as awards to the wives and children that brought the total to $101.75. The men’s lawyers had not asked for a specific amount in damages, but in court documents they cited other wrongful conviction cases in which $1 million was awarded for every year of imprisonment.
“Do I want the money? Yes, I want my children, my grandchildren to have things I didn’t have, but nothing can compensate for what they’ve done,” The A.P. quoted Mr. Salvati as saying. He had been sentenced to life in prison as an accessory to murder and served more than 29 years before his sentence was commuted in 1997.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Mr. Limone, who served 33 years in prison before he was freed in 2001. “What I’ve been through — I hope it never happens to anyone else.”
Justice Department lawyer Bridget Bailey Lipscomb declined immediate comment on the ruling.