MIDDLETON — It's a crime that sounds like a scene out of a movie: a young businessman is lured into a too-good-to-be-true deal for road salt, only to be robbed at gunpoint beside a deserted golf course in the middle of winter.
But it actually happened three years ago in Middleton, and now a reputed high-ranking Boston mobster will spend seven years in prison as a result.
Darrin Bufalino, 51, of Winthrop, admitted, in what's known as an "Alford" plea, that there is evidence to prove that he stole $11,000 from a 23-year-old Beverly man who thought he was getting a load of road salt on the morning of Jan. 26, 2009.
As a result of the plea, he was found guilty of armed robbery and received the seven-year prison term that had already been agreed to between his lawyer, Anthony Cardinale, and prosecutor John Brennan.
Brennan told Judge Timothy Feeley that the victim, who was trying to get a plowing business off the ground, heard from a friend about a road salt distributor who had a good price but only took cash.
He was put in touch with John "Jack" Viera, 50, Brennan told the judge. Brennan said Viera, who is set to stand trial in September, brought the victim and his friend to what was then known as the Sheraton Ferncroft, on the Danvers-Middleton line.
The victim was carrying $11,000 in cash.
Viera told the victim's friend that they should go get some coffee while the victim and Bufalino, whom the victim did not know, discussed the deal.
Bufalino drove the victim down Village Road, alongside the Ferncroft golf course, then stopped, pulled out a black handgun and demanded all of the victim's money, Brennan told the judge. Bufalino then took off.
Police used a partial license plate number remembered by the victim to identify Bufalino as a suspect. The victim also picked Bufalino's photo in an array — though he wasn't certain.
Then, after seeing television news coverage of Bufalino's "perp walk" into Salem District Court, the victim said he was positive that he had been the robber.
Bufalino's lawyers challenged that identification later in court, saying that not only was it not reliable but that authorities had violated Bufalino's rights by walking him into the courthouse past news cameras. A judge rejected the arguments.
Yesterday, Bufalino disputed that he had a gun during the robbery but conceded that if the case went to trial, Brennan could prove that he did.
During the hearing, Cardinale also said Bufalino is prepared to pay $5,500 in restitution to the victim, though there was a moment of confusion in the court when the judge pointed out that there's no legal mechanism for collecting the funds because Bufalino did not receive any probation in the case. The lawyer said Bufalino will pay it anyway.
It's not Bufalino's first trip to prison in a life that could be the plot of a Martin Scorsese flick (though so far his only exposure to the film industry was when he worked for Teamsters Local 25 on movie sets, he told the judge yesterday.
Bufalino spent half of the 1980s hiding out in Ireland after he was implicated in a fatal robbery. He was later found in Spain and extradited, and wound up with a 10-year sentence on reduced charges.
Cardinale said outside court that Bufalino is expected on Tuesday to enter pleas in connection with unrelated extortion charges brought against him in Suffolk County and will receive a concurrent seven-year term. In that case, Bufalino is charged with working for alleged Boston Mafia boss Mark Rossetti of East Boston, who is also facing charges.
Prosecutors say Bufalino, a one-time associate of former Mob boss "Cadillac" Frank Salemme, was Rossetti's right-hand man. Both Bufalino and Rossetti were indicted in a sweep of alleged Eastern Massachusetts organized crime figures in 2010.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.