But then, panic. On June 23, they met again, at the Marriott in Cambridge, this time to negotiate the bribes required to get New England's largest Teamsters local to allow Rudder to film without union workers. That's when Hillary noticed Rudder peering across a courtyard--at a parked van. Hillary was still ballistic the next day, when he called Franchi to recount the disaster:
Hillary: "A white van . . . I've had these f---ing things on me for years. . . ."
Franchi: "Yeah, yeah, yeah."
Hillary: ". . .It had the long black window in the side. . . . You understand?"
Franchi: "But I wonder. . . . "
Hillary: "No, let me finish. . . . I look at the van again, (see) the guy in there. . . . I see like a reflection of a metal thing . . . like the sun hit it."
Hillary: ". . . I look and see the guy clicking as I'm walking. . . . He's got the camera in his hand to his f---ing eye, and he's clicking."
Franchi: " Jesus !"
Hillary: ". . . I grabbed (Rudder). I said, 'You wired, you motherf---er?' And I start shaking him. . . ."
Franchi: ". . . I f---ing schooled this guy. . . ."
Hillary: "They were clicking like . . . like I was f---ing Johnny Gotti."
It was the pivotal moment of the sting. If the Patriarca boys backed out right then, there would have been no case. They hadn't taken a penny yet.
But they decided to go on. Franchi helped with a little bluster, pledging to "fry" Rudder if he was a setup. It wasn't necessary, though. The guys simply decided that the surveillance was the usual hassle they faced--and that Rudder was legit.
The FBI had spent a great deal making sure he looked legit. Dramex investigators paid $25,000 for a script, "Love at Second Bite," hired a production consultant from New York, set up a field office in Providence and opened a David Rudder Productions headquarters in Santa Monica. The place was so convincing that unwitting actors and writers sent in resumes. The walls were covered with film posters and a head shot of George Hamilton, the tanned, amiable vampire in "Love at First Bite." The conference room had space for a dozen movie moguls, and Rudder's private office was littered with scripts. The camera was hidden in the ceiling.
It captured Lepore getting the first $5,000 on Aug. 23, 1989, Franchi at his side. It caught Salemme Jr. taking another $5,000, boasting that his father's influence was essential, "so we never have a problem again."
The Patriarca trio raked in the bribes through June, 1990, $65,000 in all. Unlike the earlier Dramex targets, they apparently produced for their money, getting Rudder the concessions he wanted from two officials of Charlestown, Mass.-based Teamsters Local 25--which was responsible for movie projects around the area.
"Love at Second Bite" didn't get made. "We were actually prepared to produce a movie, a low-budget film, if necessary," supervising agent Patrick Marshall says. But it wasn't necessary. The evidence was in the can.
Lepore, Salemme and Hillary were told that Rudder's investors had backed out. They accepted the explanation, deciding Rudder was pulling a con all along, separating his clients from their money. They didn't seem to mind. Hillary had his cash. Salemme was working on his own film project. And Lepore--well, Rudder did produce for him.
FRANCHI HAD NEVER BEEN ABLE TO locate Linda Carol. When he called the Screen Actors Guild, she'd been in Italy, filming. She didn't have an agent because she was seeking a new one, hoping to step up from B movies. Waitressing was getting old; so were auditions where guys mostly wanted to see her bod. Her last film was "Carnal Crimes"--playing a killer's girlfriend who doesn't know he's a killer.
After Lepore appealed to Rudder for help, the FBI had no trouble finding Linda Carol--just another way to demonstrate the "producer's" clout. The feds have a name for innocents brought in to investigations: "props."
"Somebody called me. I don't know who," she recalls. "They said they were a friend of Dennis, and 'He was looking for you.' Dennis was having dinner with a producer."
She met them at L'Ermitage, one of the poshest French restaurants in town. She was wearing a slinky Italian cocktail dress. Seated across from her was the bear-like Franchi, playing the big-spending mobster. To her left sat Rudder, the FBI agent playing a producer. To her right sat Lepore, playing a classy Pacino.
Before she arrived, she told herself she was going for her career, that an actress should never turn down a meeting with a producer. Once she was there, though, she realized she'd come because of Lepore. She'd never really known him, sure. But some part of her hoped they could be alone. That, just once more, he'd tell her she was special. And that just once more, he'd raise a glass in what had become his favorite toast, "Cheers to my lady."