A South Shore man said he chose to sell his cars, jewelry, stocks and other possessions to pay off alleged mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger rather than risk his life.
Michael Solimando, 64, took the witness stand Tuesday and told jurors about a gunpoint shakedown by the leaders of the Winter Hill Gang.
Solimando said he had come to know Winter Hill Gang member Stephen Flemmi when he started working as a general contractor in the Boston area in the late 1970s shortly after his graduation from Villanova. He hung out at a bar run by James Martorano, the brother of Winter Hill Gang member John Martorano.
After Solimando’s business partner John Callahan was killed, Solimando said he received a call from Flemmi to meet him at South Boston bar Triple O’s. While there, Bulger, Flemmi and Kevin Weeks asked Solimando to come upstairs.
Upstairs is where Bulger put a gun in his face, Solimando said. Bulger and his group demanded to know about $400,000 Callahan had invested in a building and wanted it back now that he was dead, Solimando said, adding that he had no idea about it.
He tried to reason with the group and that’s when Weeks handed Bulger a machine gun who then pointed it at Solimando’s midsection, he said. That’s when Bulger told him not to go to the authorities.
“He said, ‘If you think you’re going to go to law enforcement, we’re going to know the minute you walk into the … federal building. And if you think you’re going to go to state police, forget about it, we’re covered there. And if you’re going to go to the Boston police, forget it,'” Solimando said.
In a further threat, Bulger admitted that the group had killed Brian Halloran and that investigators didn’t know whether he “died of lead poisoning or if he was electrocuted because he had so many wires on him,” Solimando said.
Solimando eventually talked his way out of the situation and promised to pay the group.
Not knowing what to do, he went to his brother-in-law, who was also his business partner. They got together $20,000 for an initial payment.
Eventually, Solimando said he and his brother-in-law sold many of their possessions, and along with Callahan’s lawyer who accessed his Swiss bank accounts, they were able to pay Bulger and his group the $400,00 they demanded.
Asked by a prosecutor why he paid and didn’t go to the authorities, Solimando said he was afraid of Bulger and Flemmi.
“It was either that or get killed,” he said.
Solimando admitted to lying to a grand jury in Florida in 1983 on two occasions because of his fear of being killed and at the urging of James Martorano.
During the start of cross examination, Bugler attorney Hank Brennan began quizzing Solimando about the issues he lied about.
Solimando, whose testimony is setting the stage for Flemmi to take the witness stand on Thursday, will continue to be questioned on Wednesday.
Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.