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Daily Archives: September 8th, 2008

Anthony Fiato aka “The Animal”

Anthony Fiato: Mafia

 informants FBI’s only chance

What’s life like in a mob family and as a government informant? Anthony “Tony the Animal” Fiato has vast experience in both worlds. Born in Boston and raised in Hollywood, at the height of his power Fiato was a multimillion-dollar loan shark and a made  member of two la cosa nostra factions.  When Fiato decided to turn on his associates and go undercover as an operative for the FBI, evidence he generated led to dozens of convictions. Fiato’s life is th esubject of an upcoming book, “The Animal in Hollywood,” by Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith.

        Anthony Fiato had to smile when he heard tough Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi had been exposed as a longtime FBI informant. That’s one more mafia killer who wouldn’t be able to call “Tony the Animal” a rat.
      There are plenty of guys like Flemmi and  Fiato these days.
      The FBI’s use of informants has come under fire in Boston, where a lack of information provided to a federal judge threatens to foul volumes of evidence and could lead to the release of some of New England’s top mobsters.
      No one, but no one, in the mob could have predicted Flemmi would be an informant. After all, he is a legendary assassin who, in tandem with Frankie “Cadillac” Salemme, is responsible for numerous murders and countless crimes.
      The government’s embrace of such a criminal for intelligence purposes raises ethical issues about the use of informants generally, but Fiato says he knows how important snitches are to cases against the American mafia.
      “It’s the only way that they can win the war on organized crime, period,” Fiato says. “It’s the only way. (An agent) told me that without informants, what he calls friends, without them the FBI wouldn’t stand a chance against the mob. Even with all the technology, all the surveillance and wiretaps, all the equipment. There would be no important cases without informants. You don’t get them from the outside because the way the mob operates you can’t walk right in, sit down and start listening. Without informants, they wouldn’t stand a chance. The only way the mob can be taken down is from the inside out.”
      The mafia’s oft-maligned code of silence, omerta, would have far more meaning if it weren’t for the devastating effect of having top mobsters, such as Flemmi, exposed as cooperating witnesses and FBI listening posts.
      “Turning Flemmi was a huge score for the FBI,” Fiato says. “You’re talking about one of the most important criminals in all of New England. The man was trusted in Whitey Bulger and Howie Winters’ Winter Hill Gang, and in Raymond Patriarca’s family. He was capable of doing plenty of work (committing multiple murders) and he was an earner. Together, Stevie Flemmi and Frankie Salemme were so well-respected by the other killers. They were tough guys, really tough guys.”

      Ask about Salemme’s reputation, and Fiato laughs again.
      “You want to talk about tough? Frankie Salemme gets out of the penitentiary and announces he wants to be the boss of the family. He’s not even made yet and wants to be the boss. He goes to John Gotti and announces his intentions and a short time later gets shot five times.
      “He survives and instead of hiding or retiring keeps on coming. He’s relentless, builds his power and becomes the boss of the family. That’s a tough guy. This is a guy who went to prison for dynamiting Joe Barboza’s attorney. Blew his legs off. Frankie Salemme’s tough enough.
      “You might call them the Gold Dust twins. Where you saw one you saw the other, all the time. They were a left and a right, both knockout punches. They would kill at the blink of an eye, and they hung out with killers.”
      But what about the idea of allowing informants to commit violent crimes while under the protection of the government?
      “In my experience, that permission is never given,” Fiato says. “That would be done without the knowledge of the FBI. An informant is told right up front they can do everything short of murder. Even though the FBI would like to see some of these guys get it, they don’t sanction murders.
      “The most important thing about the FBI and the use of informants is this: The reason they’ve been so successful in taking down the mafia is that criminals can’t believe that stool pigeons can go out with them and commit the same crimes they’re committing and still be working for the FBI.
      “I was told if I hadn’t been the target and they hadn’t had a grand jury on me, that everybody knew about it, they would have approached me, and I could have been out on the street doing business as usual forever, kept the money that I had made. That’s the game.
      “They’re giving up one guy, but they’re getting 45 or 50 guys. I’d say that’s a fair trade-off.”