Dead 32 years, Barboza still a hit man

Even if you didn't read about the Boston Mafia figures who won $100 million from the federal government, you probably had a hard time missing the picture of Joseph "The Animal" Barboza that ran with the story on Friday's Page A3.

With slicked-back hair, mutton- chop sideburns, big black sunglasses and a cigarette dangling from his mouth, Barboza is shown raising his right hand and taking an oath before a Congressional committee investigating organized crime in 1972.

You can't see his left hand, but it's a good bet its fingers were crossed.

Barboza, known as Joseph Bentley when he lived in Santa Rosa and -- later, when he was on trial for murder -- Joe Baron, was a professional liar. And Mafia enforcer. And government informant.

Mixing his trio of skills, he left a trail of broken bones and broken lives from Boston to Santa Rosa in the late '60s and early '70s. Though he died in 1975 -- the victim, naturally, of a mob execution -- Barboza was able to reach from the grave last week to put the hurt on another 300 million people: America's taxpayers.

A federal judge Thursday ordered us, through our government, to pay $101.8 million to four Boston-area men who were sent to prison for the 1965 slaying of a thug named Edward Deegan. Barboza, who likely was involved in Deegan's killing, was the government's key witness against the four, even though the FBI knew he was lying, the judge ruled.

Two of the men died in prison. The other two spent more than 30 years behind bars based on Barboza's lie.

That lie began to unravel in July 1970, just a couple of weeks after the murder of a 26-year-old Santa Rosa man named Clay Wilson, a few months before Wilson's body was found buried in a shallow grave near Glen Ellen, and about a year before Sonoma County would be introduced to one of the most colorful characters ever to darken our door.

Barboza, from New Bedford, Mass., came to Santa Rosa in 1969 after testifying in the Deegan murder case and another trial that nailed East Coast mob boss Raymond Patriarca. He was the first person ever put into the FBI's witness protection pro- gram, which sent him to Santa Rosa without notifying local authorities.

He soon established a reputation as a smooth-talking tough guy who carried around a small arsenal of guns and wore a bullet-proof vest.

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