April 9, 2022 — Former New England mob don Francis (Cadillac Frank) Salemme tried arranging for the sale of the stolen masterpieces from the famous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery, but never found any takers due to his lack of knowledge of the black-market rare-art world, according to three different sources.
Two armed assailants dressed as Boston Policemen talked their way into the privately-owned museum located near historic Fenway Park on March 18, 1990 and walked away with 13 precious pieces of artwork valued at half a billion dollars. The haul included paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Manet. Authorities believe the pair of burglars belonged to the Boston wing of New England’s Patriarca crime family. No arrests have ever been made in the case and the artwork remains missing.
Swashbuckling Cadillac Frank Salemme became boss of the mafia in New England in the coming months, having survived a shooting war launched by a rebel force within the Patriarca’s Boston faction, thought to be connected either, directly or by proxy to the Gardner Museum heist. Salemme, a native Beantowner, was aligned with the crime family’s Providence group and South Boston’s Irish mob. Upon taking power in December 1990, with backing from New York’s Gambino and Colombo crime families, Cadillac Frank demanded access to the pilfered Gardner Museum paintings, per sources, and immediately began trying to push the paintings to people he thought could find sellers.
Boston mob soldier Robert (Bobby D) Donati, a prime suspect in the robbery, was murdered in September 1991, allegedly on Salemme’s orders. Donati belonged to the Boston faction of the Patriarcas that had opposed Salemme’s rise to boss and tried to kill him in an ambush staged at an International House of Pancakes in the summer of 1989. Because of his naivete in moving stolen art, Cadillac Frank never found success in profiting from the Gardner Museum paintings and eventually “lost track” of the artwork after he fled town as a fugitive in the mid 1990s.
Salemme was finally apprehended in Florida in August 1995 and convicted of federal racketeering. He cut a deal with the government in late 1999, copped to nine gangland homicides and agreed to testify against a dirty FBI agent, earning him a trip into the Witness Protection Program. His less-than truthfulness with the FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ Office led to him being pulled out of the Program six years ago and put on trial for a killing he neglected to inform the government of when he began cooperating two decades before.
According to sources, at least a portion of the Gardner Museum paintings, were in the possession of a Dorchester mob crew under Salemme led by Carmello (The Auto Man) Merlino. The Merlino crew headquartered out of the TRC Electric Auto Repair Shop and ran armed robbery, stolen car, gambling, loansharking and drug rackets. Salemme, according to sources and a Massachusetts State Police document from the 1990s, assigned his consigliere Charles (Charlie Q-Ball) Quintina to be his liaison to Merlino’s crew regarding the paintings.
Some investigators speculate the entire Gardner Museum heist was planned in the back room at TRC Electric Auto. The FBI caught Merlino on numerous wires talking about the robbery and having the paintings “on ice.” Merlino died behind bars in 2005 of natural causes
Merlino crew member Robert (Bobby Boost) Guarente had possession of two of the paintings, possibly more, in the early 2000s and allegedly handed them off to another Merlino crew member, Robert (Bobby the Cook) Gentile, in the parking lot of a Portland, Maine diner in the years before he died of cancer in 2004. Guarente is a suspect in the 1991 gangland slaying of Merlino crew member James (Irish Jimmy) Marks — the FBI ties the Marks and Bobby Donati hits, as well as at least two others, to the fallout from the Gardner Museum heist.
After Salemme went to prison, Guarente and Gentile linked up with the Bruno-Scarfo crime family in Philadelphia and the FBI believes, a collection of the paintings came through Philly’s Rittenhouse Square art district for sale in 2002, however, never sold. Guarente bragged to a Philly mob capo he had access to the paintings when a television news report aired on the robbery while the pair were on vacation in Florida.
Gentile was caught with a hand-written list of the stolen art and accompanying black-market values for each piece. He died of respiratory failure last fall at 85.
Today, the 88-year old Cadillac Frank is serving life in prison for ordering the 1993 slaying of nightclub owner Stevie DiSarro. Salemme and DiSarro were co-owners of a South Boston rock club turned topless bar and had fallen out over Cadillac Frank’s belief that DiSarro was stealing and talking to the feds.
This article was originally posted here