Octogenarian ex-New England mob boss convicted of 1993 murder

BOSTON, June 22 (Reuters) - A federal jury on Friday found a former New England mob boss and one of his associates guilty of the 1993 murder of a nightclub owner whose remains were discovered buried in Rhode Island two years ago.

Jurors in Boston convicted Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme, 84, and Paul Weadick, 63, of killing club owner Steven DiSarro because they believed DiSarro was cooperating with federal investigators.

Both men were convicted on one count each of murdering a federal witness and face up to life in prison when they are sentenced on Sept. 13. Steven Boozang, Salemme's lawyer, said he was disappointed and plans to appeal.

"They were a tough set of facts," Boozang told reporters. "We thought we had overcome them, but we didn't."

The case stemmed from an era when organized crime in Boston was run by Salemme, who headed the New England family of La Costa Nostra in the 1990s, and James "Whitey" Bulger, the gangster serving life in prison whose criminal career was depicted in the 2015 film "Black Mass" and also inspired the 2006 movie "The Departed."

Prosecutors said Salemme had a secret interest in a South Boston music venue called The Channel, which DiSarro had purchased.

Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, a longtime partner of Bulger's who had known Salemme since the 1960s, testified during the trial that Salemme had expressed concerns that DiSarro was speaking to authorities and might implicate him in criminal activities.

Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders and has been cooperating with prosecutors, said he witnessed DiSarro's strangling on May 10, 1993, when he went to Salemme's home to talk to the Mafia boss.

Flemmi said he saw Salemme's now-deceased son, Frank Jr., strangling DiSarro as Weadick held his legs and the elder Salemme watched.

Flemmi said he quickly left because he was concerned Salemme might be under surveillance. But he said Salemme later told him DiSarro was killed and that his body was buried in a hole at a Rhode Island construction site.

Flemmi, also 84, first told authorities about DiSarro's killing in 2003 as part of a plea deal. Salemme was charged in 2016 when authorities found DiSarro's remains behind a mill in Providence, Rhode Island.

Boozang, Salemme's lawyer, in his closing argument on Monday called Flemmi a "sociopath" who he said made up the story to implicate a top organized crime figure and win a potential reduction in his sentence. (Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Scott Malone, Richard Chang and David Gregorio)