October 28, 2019 — The feds hit pay dirt 30 years ago this week in Boston when they successfully recorded a mafia induction ceremony held by New England’s Patriarca crime family in the middle of a mob war that would rage well into the next decade. The results were historic.

FBI agents in Beantown bugged a small Medford, Massachusetts residence and listened in on the afternoon of October 29, 1989 as members of the Patriarca clan gathered to “make” four new soldiers, three of them as a peace gesture to freshly-minted consigliere Joe (J.R.) Russo, who had declared war on crime family leaders in the preceding months. Russo was the overlord of the family’s East Boston crew.

The Patriarca crime family has long maintained dual headquarters in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island. When family namesake and longtime don Raymond Patriarca, a Providence underworld legend and the most notorious mob figure in the history of the region, died of a heart attack in 1984, his son Ray, Jr. took over and isolated the organization’s Boston faction headed by the “OG” J.R. Russo and his protégé Vincent (Vinnie the Animal) Ferrara of the North End crew.

The younger Patriarca aligned with his father’s former prison cell mate, the unhinged Billy (Wild Man) Grasso of Connecticut, naming him underboss, and the ambitious, capable and politcall-savvy Francis (Cadillac Frank) Salemme, a Boston hit man just released from serving 15 years behind bars, his new main man in Massachusetts. Salemme did his prison time for a car-bombing attack on a mobbed-up attorney considering testifying against Ray, Jr.’s dad.

The rising tensions reached a crescendo in the summer of 1989 when Russo and Ferrara put murder contracts on both Grasso and Salemme’s heads – Grasso was killed on June 16, Salemme was wounded (shot seven times) in a failed hit outside a suburban Boston pancake house that same morning – and threatened to personally strangle Patriarca, Jr. to death if he didn’t cede power immediately at a face-to-face meeting in Providence that allegedly brought the weak and ill-equipped mob boss to tears.

The FBI was getting a blow-by-blow of the feud from their mole on the inside, Boston mob soldier Angelo (Sonny) Mercurio, a confidential informant. Mercurio had called Cadillac Frank to the pancake house that morning, setting him up on behalf of the Russo group. After the shooting, Salemme retreated to California.

By the fall, things had simmered down thanks to Dapper Don, the then famous New York Godfather John Gotti of the Gambino crime family. Gotti summoned Russo to a sit-down and instructed him to make peace, arranging for Russo to get a bump-up to consigliere and a group of his loyalists inducted into the family. As part of the cease fire, the family’s Providence wing got to propose a member as well.

For Russo, he proposed Richie Floramo , Carmen Tortora and Vincent Federico. The Medford home at 34 Guild Street used for the ceremony on Sunday, October 29, 1989 – wired for sound the day prior courtesy of a tip from Sonny Mercurio – belonged to Federico’s sister. Federico was in the midst of serving a state prison stint for bookmaking and extortion and secured himself a furlough for the weekend so he could get himself made.

From the Providence camp, Robert (Bobby the Cigar) DeLuca, who acted as Salemme’s eyes and ears in Rhode Island and aided in the peace negotiations, got the nod for his button. Mercurio drove Patriarca, Jr. to the ceremony and lowered the volume on the television set so the FBI sound techs could get a clearer recording.

Patriarca, Jr., Russo and Sicilian-born soldier Biagio (Benny the Greaser) DiGiacomo led the ceremony, with DiGiacomo administering the oath in Italian.

“You go in alive in this organization and the only way you out is dead….it’s no Jesus, no Madonna, nobody can save you if you give up this secret,” DiGiacomo told the initiates.

To open the festivities, Patriarca, Jr. tried to ease concerns of the 20 attendees and reassure them that all the bad blood had been settled.

“Place all that stuff that got started behind us, bygones are bygones and it will be a good future for all of us,” he said.

As Russo and the college-educated Vinnie “The Animal” Ferrara were locking up the house for the evening after everyone else had gone, they ironically spoke of how top-secret the ceremony had been.

“Only the ghosts know what took place here today,” remarked Ferrara to Russo while they prepared to leave.

Well, Vinnie, the FBI knew too. And within weeks indictments began coming down, nailing almost everyone in attendance. The recording of the making ceremony is considered a crowning achievement in the U.S. government’s fight against the mafia.

The ripple effects of the bug and the subsequent bust sent the Patriarca crime family spiraling back into war, as Cadillac Frank Salemme returned from California and with Gotti’s backing in New York and a strategic alliance made with Boston’s Irish mob, grabbed the reins as don himself, and remnants of the Russo crew in East Boston began planning a resistance. Salemme immediately took aim at his enemies and purged any dissidents to his administration in the Russo camp, a body count that reached near double figures by the time of his arrest in 1995.

Russo died behind bars in 1998 at 67. Salemme flipped while in prison a year later and entered the Witness Protection Program. Last summer, Cadillac Frank, 86, was convicted of the 1993 gangland slaying of mobbed up nightclub owner Stevie DiSarro and sent back to prison for the rest of his life. The star witness at his 2018 trial was his former right-hand man, Bobby DeLuca.

The 74-year old Patriarca, Jr. and the 70-year old Vinnie Ferrara both retired from the rackets upon their respective releases from prison. Today, Patriarca, Jr. sells real estate and Ferrara owns several pieces of property in the North End.

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