The FBI is digging at a site behind an old mill building, based on a tip that the body of a South Boston nightclub owner who disappeared in 1993 may be buried there, according to two people familiar with the investigation.
Federal prosecutors believe they know how and when Steven A. DiSarro, 43, of Westwood was killed, but they have never charged anyone with the slaying or located his remains.
Kristen Setera, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Boston office, declined to comment on the ongoing investigation and would only confirm that the FBI’s evidence response team was working at the site near Branch Avenue and Woodward Road.
“I can tell you there is no threat to public safety,” she said.
A backhoe and two police dogs were involved in the search Thursday. WPRI-TV in Providence first reported the search behind the mill owned by William Ricci, who recently reached an agreement to plead guilty to federal drug charges.
The large backhoe was continuing to dig behind the building shortly after 3 p.m., as uniformed Providence officers guarded the entrance to the scene, which was sealed off with yellow police tape.
State Police and FBI agents were also at the scene.
One neighbor whose property abuts the crime scene declined to comment and chastised a television reporter for trespassing.
A second neighbor, who would only give his first name, Kevin, said he first moved into a group home on Woodward Street, several years ago, and the area is generally quiet.
“Not really any problems as far as I know,” he said.
Told that investigators may be digging up human remains, Kevin said, “Oh man, it’s insane.”
The mill is located near a shopping plaza on Branch Avenue as well as a highway.
Notorious gangster Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi told federal and state authorities in 2003 that he walked in on the murder of DiSarro on May 10, 1993, at the Sharon, Mass., home of former New England Mafia boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, according to a US Drug Enforcement Administration report filed in federal court in Boston.
Flemmi claimed that Salemme and two other men were watching as Salemme’s son, Frank, strangled DiSarro, the manager of the now defunct Channel nightclub. Flemmi claimed he quickly left the house, but later the elder Salemme confided that he had helped his son dispose of DiSarro’s body at a Rhode Island construction site, according to the report.
Salemme’s son died of lymphoma in 1995. By the time Flemmi implicated the elder Salemme in DiSarro’s slaying, the ex-Mafia don was already in the Federal Witness Protection Program after cooperating against South Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger and his corrupt FBI handler, John J. Connolly Jr.
In 2008, Francis Salemme was sentenced to five years in prison for lying and obstruction of justice for denying any knowledge about DiSarro’s murder during plea negotiations in 1999 that resolved a prior racketeering indictment against him.
Salemme denied the allegation that he watched his son strangle DiSarro, then helped dispose of his body. Salemme, 82, remains in the Federal Witness Protection Program.