Nation digest 10/15/03

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Boston mobster pleads guilty to racketeering

BOSTON -- Mob informant Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi pleaded guilty Tuesday to racketeering charges to avoid the death penalty under a deal in which he accused his former FBI handler of helping to set up a murder.

Flemmi, 69, appeared in U.S. District Court and changed his plea to guilty on a federal indictment that charges him in connection with 10 murders. The plea deal calls for him to serve life in prison.

Earlier this month, Flemmi cut a deal with prosecutors in which he accused the man who recruited him to become an FBI informant in the 1960s, a law enforcement source, speaking only on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press.

Flemmi backed up a story provided by a mob hitman who told investigators that former FBI Agent H. Paul Rico helped him and others set up the killing of Tulsa, Okla., businessman Roger Wheeler in 1981, the source said. Rico was arrested Thursday.

Priest, secretary robbed of collections at gunpoint

BALTIMORE -- A man held a gun to the head of a church secretary and forced a Roman Catholic priest to hand over nearly $8,000 in Sunday collections, police and the woman said.

The robber knocked on the door of the Shrine of the Little Flower around 9 a.m. Monday, saying he wanted to donate clothes, said detective Donny Moses. When the secretary opened the door, the man showed her a semiautomatic weapon and demanded money, Moses said.

The woman took the robber to the Rev. Michael Orchik, who gave the man the church's petty cash. But the robber demanded to be taken to the safe that held the Sunday collections.

The secretary, who declined to give her name when contacted by The Associated Press on Tuesday, said the man put his gun to her head and said, "Hurry up and open it. In five seconds, she's dead."

The woman said she then remembered she kept a copy of the combination in her desk. The priest opened the safe and gave the robber the money.

Hundreds evacuated after ammonia leaks from plant

ELLINGTON, Conn. -- A leak at a juice company sent a cloud of ammonia over town early Tuesday, leading to the evacuation of about 1,000 people.

The leak from a tank was reported about 2 a.m. at the Natural Country Farms plant and wasn't plugged until around seven hours later, officials said.

The leak developed after a 2-inch pipe flange came loose in an area where 8,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia, used as a refrigerant, is stored, fire officials said. Crews in chemical protection suits were sent in to stop the leak.

"It's going to clean itself up once we ventilate," assistant fire chief Gary Feldman said. "It's not like an oil spill, where we've got a bunch of gunk to clean up. It's just going to dissipate."

Environmental tests found that even in areas of heavy concentrations of the ammonia, the gas didn't reach a level considered dangerous, officials said.

-- From wire reports

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