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Oct. 11, 2021

The CI Program & H. Paul Rico - The Early Days


We are introducing Richie's nemesis in our story this week: H Paul Rico. Join us as we cover the early years of Rico's life and FBI career. We're also talking about the FBI's Confidential Informant Program and some of its early victories and blunders.

If you'd like to email Lara you can reach her at lara@doubledealpodcast.comand Nina can be contacted at nina@doubledealpodcast.com

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Thank you for listening!

All the best,

Lara & Nina

Transcript

Lara:

Hi everyone! We’re back! Today we’ll be discussing dad’s nemesis, H. Paul Rico, and the evolution of the Confidential Informant program in the Boston FBI office. Two of Nina’s, let’s say, favorite topics. I’m usually the one dropping f-bombs, but today I’m expecting some colorful language from our normally reserved Nina.

Nina:

You really want to get my blood pressure up, don’t you? 



Lara:

 

Nah not me! I’m not like that! Ok let’s jump right in! Nina, what do you have to tell us about Rico?



Nina:

 

Howard Paul Rico was born on the 20th of April 1925. He went by various nicknames over the years, but eventually settled on Rico.



Lara:

 

Not sure if he chose that moniker, but that seems to have stuck.  



Nina:

 

“A form more active, light and strong,

Ne’er shot the ranks of war along”



Lara:

 

What the fuck are you saying?




Nina:

 

It’s Sir Walter Scott! It’s from Rico’s high school yearbook! He thought he was in The Dead Poets Society!



Lara:

 

Stop already! But hey you know poetic justice does seem to have its day in his story.



Nina:

 

“A strength in ideals, a purpose in life”



Lara:

 

Another quote from him but this time from his class of 1950 BC yearbook.



Nina:

 

The ideals of a serial killer. 



Lara:

 

Or living vicariously through serial killers. OK, enough of the quotes. Tell us a little bit more about his pre-FBI life.



Nina

 

Rico graduated from Belmont High in the spring of ‘44, but he had already enlisted in the Army in December of 1943. He served as a radioman and a gunner on a B-24. It was rumored he was awarded 3 Bronze Stars.

 

Lara:

 

He was in the 1944 yearbook in uniform, as were many boys. Of course I checked the National Archives and Fold 3. There’s nothing other than his draft card. As a test of sorts I checked for both of my grandfathers, and their enlistment records are there. I too saw the Bronze Star claim, and I checked 4 different websites that track medals awarded to servicemen. Rico’s name doesn't appear anywhere. Granted there is no official database for Bronze Stars awarded, and there were roughly 350,000 awarded in WWII, but it still seems odd that there is nothing out there.



Nina:

 

Let’s move on from military history. Rico graduated from Boston College in 1950 with a Bachelor's Degree in History. In February of 1951 he was inducted into the FBI. He completed his training on April 21st and married his high school sweetheart the same day. He was sent to Chicago, where his first child was born in November of that year. I think he did a brief stint in Pittsburgh too, but was transferred back to Boston in March of 1952 because his father was ill. His father died in 1955, and his mother died a little more than two years later. She was just 54 years old. 



Lara:

 

You left out that he was on the Jesuit School chess team!



Nina:

 

I can’t!



Lara:

 

I sent you the picture in case you don’t believe me!



Nina:

 

I did see it! And now I can’t unsee it! 



Lara:

 

Hey why should I suffer alone?




Nina:

 

Misery loves company! When Rico returned to Boston 2 years after the Great Brink’s Robbery, he was paired up with SA John F Kehoe. Kehoe was a member of the FBI’s Brink’s investigative team, and it was a perfect introduction into the criminal underworld in Boston. I don’t think it was so “under” in those days!



Lara:

 

I think it was far more likely out in the open! Rico seems to have been flying under the radar until 1956. The Brink’s indictments had been handed down, and Whitey Bulger was on the wanted list. I don’t want to go down the Whitey rabbit hole since there’s been so much attention given to him for the past 30 years, but I think it’s important to give a little information about what Whitey was up to prior to his arrest by Rico in 1956. The arrest that leads to Rico’s promotion and praise from J. Edgar Hoover.



Nina:

 

It just dawned on me that Rico stylized his name after Hoover. Pre-FBI days he’s listed everywhere as Paul Rico then he evolves into H. Paul Rico.



Lara:

 

You’re right! Talk about a fanboy. We’ve both seen multiple claims that Rico would tell anyone he could, fellow Fed or wiseguy, about how close he and Hoover were.



Nina:

 

And they all laughed behind his back. Then of course there is the story about what Georgie McLaughlin supposedly said.



Lara:

 

Hush! We’ll get to that later. Not that many don’t already know that story. Ok back to Whitey. Nina tell us a little bit about Whitey’s early crimes.





Nina:

 

His first arrest was in 1943. He was only 14 at that time and was sent to a reformatory. There was another arrest in March of 1947. Then in June of 1948, Whitey and two others were picked up for an attempted sexual assault on a Marine Corporal’s wife. Rather than going to prison he ended up in the Air Force from 1948 to 1952. 



Lara:

 

Well that didn’t keep him out of trouble. He landed in the brig for going AWOL, multiple brawls and in a separate incident, he was charged with rape. Somehow he was still honorably discharged and managed to get his High School diploma.



Nina:

 

As soon as he hit the street, he was picked up in July of 1953 for stealing more than $2000 in goods from trucks in the Back Bay. He and Richard C. Kelley were picked up and the stolen cigarettes were recovered.



Lara:

 

But Whitey moved onto more serious crimes. He and two others went on a bank robbing spree, and Whitey was now on Rico’s radar. The story goes that Rico already knew Whitey from his days hustling in local gay bars where Rico supposedly went to recruit informants. An informant provided the information where Rico and his partner SA Briick could find Whitey. That night in a Revere bar Whitey was picked up and Rico became a hero



Nina: 

 

We all know the rest of the story about Whitey since it’s been covered in multiple books and films. But I don’t buy the story that he didn’t become an informant until the 1970s, and I don’t buy the story about the informant giving him up. I think his brother Billy orchestrated a surrender of sorts that would keep Whitey from being shot and killed. It was not a good time to be out on the streets. People were getting killed right and left because of the Brink’s stuff. Being locked up also helped Whitey’s street cred. 



Lara :

 

I agree with you. The story doesn’t sit right with me either. But Rico moved onto bigger and brighter things three months later, the moldy loot. Our next episode will be about the recovered Brink’s loot, Wimpy Bennett and Fats Buccelli, so we won’t get into too much detail here. In June of 1956 Special Agents Rico, Kehoe and Frisoli arrested Wimpy and Fats in their downtown Boston office where they found a cooler with $57,732 of the stolen money. 



Nina:

 

Rico was still riding high on the accolades he’d gotten for the capture of Whitey Bulger and recovery of part of the Brink’s loot when he got his next big case in September the same year.

The National Shawmut Bank on Audubon Circle was robbed of $9800 by three masked men in a mid-day raid. Someone allegedly made a call about a shooting at a jewelry store in another part of town to distract the police in the area, so they’d be gone when the robbery took place.

 

One of the men was described as being between 25 and thirty years old, 5 feet 10, with black hair and brown eyes. He was wearing a red and black jacket and carrying a black automatic. The descriptions of the other two were not as specific, one was described as being 6 feet and thin, and the other 5 feet 10. A wheelman was waiting for them outside. Their stolen car was traced to a woman in Roxbury. It had allegedly been stolen from Columbia Rd, in Dorchester the same morning as the heist.



Lara:

 

That sounds like Sonny’s work, and he WAS back out on the street at that point.



Nina:

 

Well, they only charged one guy with the job. An unemployed man named Joseph Webster Ross who lived in Roslindale. And Rico once again got to be a hero. The Feds put out a story that some of the bills that were stolen were traceable. National Shawmut had been robbed by a lone gunman two years prior for $45,000. That crime was never solved. The bank claimed that they put out traceable two dollar bills in case another heist occurred. 



Lara:

 

I understand putting the tracers in, but how did they know that Ross had the bills? Did he pass them somewhere?



Nina:

 

At the trial in May 1957, Rico testified that he found seven of those bills on Ross when they went to his home on September 22, five days after the robbery. They were part of a roll of $246 that was hidden behind a sliding door in Ross’ headboard. Ross told the police that he got the bills from gambling. His alibi was that he was at home working on his house, and he had heard about the heist on the radio. His wife and his landlord, who was a close family friend, testified to the same.



Lara:

 

But I still don’t understand why Ross was targeted. 



Nina:

 

I’m really not sure either. The probable cause is missing in the story. I did find a blurb in the newspaper about a group of three who were picked up for passing bad checks the day after the heist. The cops seemed to think that they had some connection to the heist. No names were ever released that I can find. Maybe they fingered Ross. The timing certainly fits. He was the only one who was ever charged. 



Lara: 

 

The jury convicted Ross of the robbery after 7 hours of debate. But they found him not guilty on the charge of receiving stolen goods. The judge later sentenced him to a State bid of 20-25 years. 





Nina:

 

He was lucky. He could have received a life sentence since Massachusetts had recently changed the laws on armed robbery due to the Brink’s case. The judge refused the defense attorney’s request for a new trial, saying that if Ross had been wrongfully convicted, that was for the higher courts to decide.



Lara:

 

Ross’ attorney, Theodore Eisenstadt, had only graduated from Boston University a few months before the heist took place. A week after Ross was sentenced, Garrett Byrne’s office announced that Eisenstadt had been appointed assistant DA



Nina:

 

Ross ended up appealing the conviction with a different lawyer. 3 other accomplices were named in Ross’ appeal , but like I said, Ross was the only one charged. One of the men was named Matheson. I think it was probably a guy named John P Matheson who was arrested in the early hours of March 17, 1957 after cracking a safe in a South End drug store. He was released on bail only to default. The cops finally found him on June 7, 1957 in Everett. Just one week after Ross was convicted. Magic.



Lara:

 

The other name that came up in the appeal was Joyce, but no first name. Of course my first thought was Dickie Joyce because he was an acquaintance of Mello’s, but there were probably more than a few with that name running around at that time. Any idea how long Ross ended up serving?



Nina:

 

No, I couldn’t find anything. All I know is that he died in 1982 in Westminster. According to SA Briick, Ross didn’t do himself any favors when he was questioned, changing his story multiple times. The story mirrored Jack’s case in a lot of ways. But Jack was actually guilty of robbery. The only thing Ross seems to have been guilty of is having shady friends who had no loyalty.



Lara:

 

While Ross’ case was happening, dad was arrested for the first time. He was picked up on March 18,1957 for armed robbery as an accessory before the fact. Rico shows up at Charles St jail. This was dad’s first encounter with Rico. We will be discussing this in depth in episode 8. 



Nina:

 

Why does everything happen on your birthday? The Gardner Heist, this. I know you weren’t born yet, but still.



Lara:

 

Look, don’t start with! I’ve been getting ribbed about it for 31 years. “Hey, was that your 21st birthday gift?” 



Nina:

 

Ok, ok. Back to 1957. It was also in this year that J. Edgar Hoover acknowledged the existence of La Cosa Nostra and organized crime. Hoover’s logic was that if he didn’t know it existed, then therefore it couldn’t have existed.The Apalachin (Apalakin) meeting changed all of that and changed the Boston FBI’s relationships with their informants for decades. In an effort to wipe out the Italian Mafia, they would form relationships not only with criminals, but with those many would deem serial killers.



Lara:

 

Let’s fast forward to 1961. On February 13th Bobby Kennedy declared Raymond Patriarca one of the 39 “top hoodlums” in the US. The following months the agents were directed to recruit new CIs. Then on June 21st the Top Echelon program was officially launched.  



Nina:

 

Three Top Echelon Informants were recruited in the Boston area in the latter half of 1961. The most famous was, of course, Vinnie Theresa.



Lara:

 

That was shortly after the protection of CIs was made official by the FBI.

 

As Rico and his fellow agents were busy recruiting informants under Hoover’s new directive, there was a gang war brewing in Boston. The lines were already drawn, but it wasn’t just between the two gangs themselves. Most fell into one of the two camps. You were either with the McLaughlins or the McLeans. And it wasn’t just the street guys. The Feds chose a side too.



Nina:

 

We will be discussing the gang war throughout the season, in addition to doing an episode about how it all started. 



Lara:

 

That gangwar and Rico’s participation in it will change the organized crime scene in Boston forever. The effects can still be felt to this day.



Nina: 

 

As the gang war heated up, a wiretap was installed at Raymond Patriarca’s office in Providence in March 1962. The amount of work that had to be done to get the device installed at Atwells Ave was actually pretty impressive. And I hate giving these people any compliments!

 

Hoover was also impressed because he recommended rewarding the Agents who worked to install the wiretap, “in view of the almost insurmountable problems encountered in your efforts… and the problems encountered in connection with the actual installation, such as cold 20 degree weather, security, and full surveillance procedures utilized.”



Lara:

 

In early April 1962, the wiretap at Raymond’s office picked up Jerry Anguilo telling Raymond that he had been informed that Raymond’s place was wired. Someone had told Jerry that he had been friendly with an FBI agent for nine years. It transpired that the Special Agent in question was H Paul Rico, even though Jerry’s source refused to name Rico. As proof of his claim, he noted that he had attended the wake of Rico’s mother.





Nina:

 

Jerry’s source said he was willing to go to Raymond’s with Jerry to convince Raymond of the fact that his place was wired. He was even willing to “blow his brains out” in Raymond’s office to prove his claim. Jerry apparently rejected this offer because he went to Raymond’s himself and was poking around, looking for a wiretap. But he couldn’t find it! Mind you, this took place just one month after the wiretap had been installed. 



Lara:

 

I can imagine Jerry with those eyeglasses of his tapping on the wall! Did you ever come up with who the informant might have been? I would imagine it was someone picked up during the Brink’s case.



Nina:

 

No, I narrowed it down to about a dozen possibilities, but nothing definitive. This is a prime example of what I was talking about when I mentioned the major holes in the FBI’s CI program.

 

Rico admitted to his supervisor, John B Greene, that he had been in contact with his CI just days earlier but that they had been discussing a recent bank robbery in West Lynn. There had also apparently been some talk of a wiretap during this meeting. But it was not in relation to the Patriarca situation, Rico claimed. He also insisted that the informant would confide in him but they were not friendly, and that the CI had not attended his mother’s wake in 1958. 



Lara:

 

Rico may not have had a “personal” relationship with that particular informant, but that would soon change as The Flemmi brothers came on the scene. Join us next week as we discuss the moldy loot at length. That will be the episode that will lead us into dad’s story.



Nina:

 

Finally!



Lara:

 

Thank you for listening! We’ve reached 388 downloads for our first 5 episodes. I know that seems tiny, but we’re excited about it! Please leave a review! It will help us tremendously! Also share with your friends. Hope you listen next week.

 

Nina and Lara:

 

Bye!