Adolfo Bruno's 2003 murder has been thoroughly vetted in the courts and news reports over the past 12 years, but new light has been shed on the case and the workings of the Springfield mob with a treasure trove of new information.
Two of the eight convicted defendants – former West Springfield mob enforcer Fotios "Freddy" Geas, and onetime acting Genovese Mafia boss Arthur "Artie" Nigro, of Bronx, NY, – have filed fresh motions asking a judge in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to vacate their life sentences. Among the court filings related to those appeals, new details about government witnesses have emerged, including New York's John Bologna and local strip club magnate James Santaniello. Also, retired FBI Agent Clifford Hedges, was prompted to speak out about his controversial report on Bruno that has been billed as the final trigger that sent the Bruno murder conspiracy in motion.
SPRINGFIELD — It's been a dozen years since this city was roiled by a Mafia-fueled crime spree that peaked with the 2003 murders of crime boss Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno and low-level associate Gary Westerman.
Bruno was killed "cowboy style" in a downtown parking lot by a paid gunman bent on revenge, at the behest of scheming gangsters intent on a power play. Westerman was shot, smashed in the head with a shovel and dumped in a ditch in Agawam by fellow criminals he believed were his allies.
It's been four years since three men were tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for their respective roles in one or both killings. Onetime acting Genovese crime family boss Arthur "Artie" Nigro, formerly of Bronx, NY, and West Springfield brothers Fotios "Freddy" and Ty Geas stood trial in U.S. District Court in New York City in 2011. They were found guilty by a jury of a host of crimes including murder, racketeering and extortion.
The government made its case with three of the defendants' co-conspirators. They included two "made guys" in the Genovese-afilliated Springfield Crew plus one "crash dummy" from Westfield who carried out violent crimes for them. Nigro was pulling the strings in New York and gave the green-light for Bruno's murder, witnesses said.
The multi-state prosecution decimated Greater Springfield's organized crime terrain and temporarily jammed a lid on its trappings: extortion, widespread sports-betting and a general bully culture.
But all the years that have passed and law enforcement manpower aside, the case is still, in theory, a live issue. Freddy Geas filed a motion to vacate his sentence in May, arguing his defense had been hampered by ineffective counsel and that he had been robbed of a plea deal, among other things. His motion was rudimentary and boilerplate, clearly written by the hand of a penniless inmate serving a life sentence in a high-security prison in West Virginia with the possible assist of jailhouse lawyers.
Nigro's motion, on the other hand, was persuasively written and carefully prepared by prominent Wall Street lawyer Ruth Liebesman. It was filed in June. It offers a list of exhibits that provides a rare glimpse into law enforcement's handling of informants: namely John Bologna, a mid-level New York gangster who bounced between crime families while an informant for the FBI; and James Santaniello, Springfield's version of Howard Hughes - wealthy, stealthy and somewhat reclusive, also a law enforcement mole.
Obtained by The Republican, the material will be highlighted over four stories.
Liebesman's motion argues that despite having three attorneys at trial, Nigro received a woefully inadequate defense. According to Nigro, wily federal prosecutors dumped thousands of pages of witness testimony "on the eve of trial" with hidden gems of exculpatory evidence inside, which were all but unmanageable given the timeline.
Buried in this information are previously undisclosed details about Santaniello's business holdings, his coziness with authorities - plus Bologna's longtime deception straddling the mob world and his partnership with the Feds.
The onetime Bronx boss argues that his trial counsel fell short, first, by failing to make more hay with the cross-examination of Bologna, Nigro's former right hand who was secretly working as an FBI informant since 1996 while committing all the crimes gangsters cling to. It took 14 years for the Feds to disavow him, and, only after his role in the Bruno murder conspiracy came to light through other witnesses.
"Bologna was the FBI's New York office's answer to Whitey Bulger, the crime lord who committed and ordered numerous murders and acts of violence while an FBI informant in Boston over a period of many years," Liebesman's motion reads.
"Bologna was the FBI's New York office's answer to Whitey Bulger ..." ~ Attorney Ruth LiebesmanJames "Whitey" Bulger, is serving a life sentence for 19 murders he committed while heading up Boston's Irish Mob crew, the Winter Hill Gang. Bulger committed crimes unchecked while acting as an informant for the FBI and feeding federal authorities information on his rivals in the Italian Mafia.
His former handler, John Connolly, also a childhood friend, is serving a 40-year prison sentence in connection with his ties to Bulger and the Winter Hill Gang. Connolly was in 1999 convicted of tipping Bulger to pending investigations and indictments, which prompted Bulger to flee Boston in 1994. Bulger remained in hiding at the top of the FBI's Most Wanted list until 2011, when he and his girlfriend were captured in California.
There have been no accusations that the FBI in New York knew about Bologna's specific criminal dealings in Western Massachusetts. An agent testified at Nigro's trial that Bologna simply hid things and lied to the agency during dozens of briefings. However, previous reports law enforcement indicate Bologna was tipped to an investigation into Mafia figures in Greater Springfield, where he had been regularly visiting in 2002, and abruptly stopped traveling here.
Liebesman argues in her motion that Bologna was the one who ordered the hit on Bruno - not Nigro - and orchestrated a myriad of extortion schemes in Springfield after Bruno was appointed boss of the city.
Another player she highlighted to bolster Nigro's case was Santianiello, local czar of strip clubs and nightlife, with extensive business holdings in his family members' names. He inked a murky deal with federal law enforcement authorities in 2010 - with unspecified benefits.
All the while, Santaniello steadied one foot in the underworld, kept a dizzying number of ventures afloat and somehow managed to avoid criminal prosecution since the mid-1980s, according to records. Among the downsides: Santaniello found himself a perennial feed box for several mob regimes. He paid up to thousands of dollars per week in shakedown money to organized crime figures, occasionally being forced to jockey between competing bosses, court records show.
Santaniello was cited as a victim of extortion in two trials: the prosecution of Nigro and the Geases plus a subsequent 2012 trial of Emilio Fusco, a co-conspirator who fled to his native Italy and delayed his own proceeding. Fusco was acquitted of the Bruno and Westerman murders but convicted of racketeering, extortion and other crimes and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Throughout Santaniello's prolific history lesson of local mob feuds, deals and transitions, hand-written notes by the FBI show - he had little or nothing to say about Nigro.
"As law enforcement was well aware - at least in Massachusetts - Santaniello was Bologna's victim. He had nothing to say about Arthur Nigro," his lawyer wrote.
Tomorrow, a summary of last-ditch motions by Fotios Geas and Nigro to set aside their sentences and the government's response.