HELENA – The Republican Party is attacking the Democrats’ top congressional contender over his past work as a lawyer representing a notorious California mobster.
Dennis McDonald, the Montana Democratic Party chairman launching a campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, said Aladena “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno was just another client — although a high profile one.
McDonald, now running a ranch in Melville, was a California lawyer 30 years ago. He said Friday that his work representing Fratianno in the 1970s led to the mobster giving prosecutors enough information to bring down two dozen mobsters.
The Democrat said he was instrumental in negotiating the deal that allowed Fratianno to become one of the highest-ranking mob bosses to testify for the government.
“I was a trial lawyer, and as a trial lawyer you represent some bad characters from time to time. And indeed I represented Mr. Fratianno,” McDonald said. “We had a professional relationship. Mr. Fratianno sought me out because he needed someone who was competent and somebody he could trust. It required a great deal of trust as I negotiated with the federal government for him to become a federal witness.”
An Associated Press story from 1987, which quotes McDonald as Fratianno’s lawyer, said the mobster made a million-dollar career out of testifying for the government before getting kicked out of the Justice Department’s witness protection program.
“I think it puts his life in great jeopardy,” McDonald was quoted as saying at the time.
Fratianno was at one time the acting boss of the Los Angeles crime syndicate. His testimony contributed to convicting 26 members of La Cosa Nostra, including six of the organization’s leaders, McDonald said in the 1987 AP interview. In addition, Fratianno’s testimony helped convict 11 other people who were associated with La Cosa Nostra.
Fratianno, with McDonald’s help, secured a book deal after his work in the 1970s helping federal prosecutors. That 1980 book, “The Last Mafioso,” by the late Ovid Demaris, features many passages involving McDonald.
The Montana Republican Party said it thinks passages suggesting a personal relationship between McDonald and Fratianno demonstrate a past that Montana voters won’t support. One passage says the two went on vacation to Las Vegas.
“He (McDonald) enjoyed Jimmy’s company, particularly when they went to Las Vegas. Here Jimmy reigned supreme,” the book says. “He was treated like a visiting shah, except that they weren’t after his money. Everything was on the house. Jimmy’s suite at Caesars Palace was always filled with people paying homage.”
McDonald said there were no vacations to Las Vegas, although the two did make trips there with the FBI as part of the investigation once his client started working with prosecutors.
The book also details a Sunday the two reportedly spent watching football and playing checkers at McDonald’s house after Fratianno became worried about his life.
McDonald said Friday that he recalls that Fratianno was at his house getting ready to travel to prosecutors in order that they could start negotiating a deal to work with prosecutors.
McDonald said his time representing Fratianno didn’t last long and shows how instrumental McDonald was in helping bring down scores of mobsters. McDonald also said testimony and related convictions helped secure the release of a different man who had been wrongfully imprisoned for murder.
“In fact, what I did was represent a government witness in an effort to prosecute quite a number of organized crime people and ultimately succeeded in putting them in jail,” McDonald.
McDonald, ranching full time in Montana since the late 1980s and part time since 1972, said he thinks the Republican research on the issue and subsequent attacks show they are “scared” of his candidacy.
“I don’t know whether it’s relevant,” McDonald said Friday. “That’s a call you guys in the press will make, and ultimately Montanans will need to make that call.”
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