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Local movie producer testifies at Salemme mob trial

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© J. Pat Carter/AP/file 2008
Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi testified in a Miami court room in the murder trial of former FBI agent John Connolly.

By Shelley Murphy, The Boston Globe

A local movie producer testified Thursday that South Boston nightclub owner Steven DiSarro was hiding out at his home shortly before he disappeared in 1993 because he was afraid a notorious gangster was going to kill him.

John McAveeney told jurors DiSarro was afraid of Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi -- the prosecution’s star witness who has implicated former New England Mafia boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme and Paul Weadick in DiSarro’s slaying.

Called to the stand by the defense, 56-year-old McAveeney, who grew up in Somerville and was friendly with members of the Winter Hill Gang, said he was producing music shows around Boston in the late 1980s when he met DiSarro and became close friends with him.

In April or May 1993, according to McAveeney, DiSarro asked him for $60,000 and said if he didn’t get the money Flemmi “was going to kill him.”

McAveeney said he didn’t have the cash “so I kept him hidden at my house for 3 or 4 days to a week,” then “gave him some petty cash and my credit card and told him to leave town.”

Attorney William Crowe, who represents Weadick, asked, “Do you know if he left town?”

McAveeney said he never saw DiSarro again.

DiSarro, a 43-year-old father of five who owned the Channel nightclub, was missing for 23 years until his remains were recovered two years ago behind an old mill in Providence, leading to murder charges against Salemme, 84, and Weadick, 62, of Burlington.

Flemmi testified during the trial in US District Court in Boston that he dropped by Salemme’s Sharon home on May 10, 1993 and saw Salemme’s son, Frank, strangling DiSarro, while Weadick held his legs and Salemme watched. He said the Salemmes had a hidden interest in DiSarro’s club and killed him because they feared he would cooperate in a federal investigation that was targeting them. Salemme’s son died two years later.

On Thursday, McAveeney said the FBI spoke to him after DiSarro’s disappearance, but he didn’t tell them that DiSarro was afraid of Flemmi and had been hiding out.

Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak hammered at McAveeney during cross-examination, calling him a “gangster wannabe” and questioning why he didn’t tell the FBI, or anyone else, that DiSarro was afraid of Flemmi, until now.

“Sometimes the past is just better being buried in the past,” McAveeney said.

Wyshak grilled McAveeney about what movies he produced and suggested his testimony was motivated by a desire to write a book or make a movie.

“I’m the person that brought Black Mass to Hollywood,” said McAveeney, adding that he had a hand in negotiating the sale of the film rights for the book to Miramax, but made no money on the project. He said he won awards for a gay romantic comedy, “Is it Just Me?”

McAveeney said he didn’t tell anyone about DiSarro’s fear of Flemmi, partly because he was worried about his safety.

Flemmi, a longtime FBI informant, is now serving a life sentence for 10 murders.

Years ago, Salemme was placed in the federal witness protection program after helping prosecutors send corrupt former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. to prison. He was removed from the program after his arrest two years ago for DiSarro’s slaying.

On Wednesday, FBI special agent Kristen Koch testified that she interviewed Salemme after the 2011 arrest of a fugitive mobster who shot him decades earlier. She said Salemme told investigators he was upset when he learned in 1997 that Flemmi was a “rat” and “wanted to annihilate him.”

Salemme recounted that he “grabbed Flemmi by the throat” during a confrontation at the Plymouth jail in the 1990s after learning he killed two women.

Koch said Salemme was asked about DiSarro’s disappearance and speculated that Salemme and his son, William, “knew that DiSarro was talking to the cops and that they probably killed him.”

The defense rested its case Thursday after calling McAveeney and four other witnesses to the stand. US District Judge Allison Burroughs asked Salemme and Weadick if they understood they have a right to testify. Both men said they understood, but would not take the stand.

A longtime friend of Weadick’s, Darren Wagner, testifying as a character witness Thursday, said he met Weadick in 1991 and hired him to work for his plumbing company a year or two later.

“He had a lot of discipline” and a “hard-work” ethic, Wagner said. He said they became best friends and were roommates for several years. He said he was proud when Weadick got his jorneyman plumbing license in the 1990s and took a job working for a property management company.

The judge told jurors that prosecutors may call rebuttal witnesses Friday, then both sides will give their final arguments Monday.

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