(MCT) BOSTON — Legendary crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger, who used a corrupt relationship with law enforcement to terrorize the city for decades, was convicted by a jury Monday of 11 murders and dozens of other crimes.
The 83-year old Bulger, who opened his trial by flinging obscenities at witnesses who displeased him, stood silently and watched, hands clasped at his waist, as a court clerk read through seven pages of crimes, most of which the jury concluded he had committed. The guilty findings should keep Bulger in prison for the rest of his life.
The conviction and years of investigation preceding it reveal not only the grotesque violence for which Bulger and his partners were routinely responsible, but the degree to which he had corrupted the local FBI office. There was testimony Bulger paid an agent a quarter million dollars and, in return, repeatedly received information he used to kill witnesses.
The verdicts destroyed whatever remained of the Bulger myth — a myth cultivated by Bulger and his friends in federal law enforcement — that one of the country’s most violent criminals was really a “good” bad guy, a hoodlum with a blue-collar heart who, among other things, kept drug dealers out of Irish-American South Boston, his power base.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said the jury verdicts mark “the end of an era that was very ugly in Boston’s history.”
“Today is a day that many in this city thought would never come,” Ortiz said. “The day of reckoning for Whitey Bulger has been long in coming, in fact too long.”
There was evidence at the trial, including more than 500 pages of FBI reports, that Bulger was a long-time FBI informant who gave up fellow South Boston criminals — not to mention, his own partners — without hesitation. Bulger used the informant relationship to co-opt the FBI, providing gifts and cash to as many as six agents.
Bulger’s corrupt FBI handlers in Boston convinced senior prosecutors and Washington FBI officials that he should be protected from arrest because he was a potential source of information about the Justice Department’s top target, the Italian mafia. In reality, the evidence showed Bulger had little to offer about the mafia.
In the meantime, the jury concluded, he was directing ruthless extortions that he used to seize control of drug distribution in South Boston and elsewhere. He collected as much as $500,000 a week by flooding his own neighborhood with tons of cocaine and marijuana and creating an army of addicts.
Other evidence put the crime boss at the center of an ambitious plot by his Winter Hill gang and retired Boston FBI agent H. Paul Rico to penetrate the U.S. pari-mutuel industry by taking over the World Jai Alai company.
Bulger signed on to the murderous jai alai plot even though he worried from the outset that the law enforcement attention it was certain to generate would be his undoing. Bulger was right. Four of the murders and two of the murder conspiracies of which he was found guilty were related to his gang’s attempt to shoot its way into World Jai Alai.
The first to die was World Jai Alai owner Roger Wheeler. Then Winter Hill associates Brian Halloran and John Callahan were gunned down after Bulger’s corrupt FBI handler, agent John Connolly, told him the two were, or were likely to become, witnesses against him in the Wheeler murder.
The fourth victim was Michael Donahue, an innocent bystander who happened to be sitting in a car with Halloran when Bulger opened fire with a machine gun, in broad daylight, on a busy South Boston street, yards from the shiny new courthouse where his two-month trial took place.
“The government needs to be accountable for all this crap,” Donahue’s son, Thomas, said Monday. “The deceit of the FBI is why we are all here right now.”
The jury found that Bulger strangled to death partner Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi’s drug-addicted stepdaughter, Deborah Hussey, a young woman Flemmi admitted having sexually abused. There was testimony that Hussey’s drug addiction had become an embarrassment for Bulger’s and Flemmi’s Winter Hill gang.
There was testimony from two witnesses that Bulger watched Flemmi rip the teeth from their murder victims’ mouths in an effort to deter identification of bodies. Flemmi testified he usually had to bury the bodies because Bulger always napped after murders.
The jury convicted Bulger on 31 counts of a broad 32-count racketeering indictment. He was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy, racketeering, extortion, 23 money-launder counts and five weapons counts.
The one count on which Bulger was found not guilty involved the extortion of protection payments from small time Dorchester, Mass., bookie Kevin Hays. When he testified, Hays described being threatened with death by a member of Bulger’s gang, but he did say Bulger was present.
The jury said the government had proven most of the 33 separate racketeering acts charged against Bulger under the indictment’s racketeering count.
The government was found to have proven Bulger guilty of 11 murders and three murder conspiracies. The jury said the government had failed to prove seven murders and two murder conspiracies that, in general, involved single witnesses such as John Martorano, a former Bulger partner who got a cooperation deal with the government requiring him to serve only 12 1/2 years in prison for 20 murders.
The jury said it could not agree whether the government had proven or failed to prove that Bulger killed Debra Davis, a 17-year old jewelry store clerk who became Flemmi’s live-in girlfriend. Flemmi was the only witness to the murder. The ex-partners blamed one another and offered conflicting motives for the crime.
Flemmi struck a cooperation deal too. He is serving life, but was spared possible death sentences for jai alai murders in Florida and Oklahoma.
Fourteen more racketeering acts accused Bulger of extortion, narcotics distribution and money laundering. The jury said the government failed to prove two — one that concerned the Hays extortion and another involving the extortion of South Boston businessman Raymond Slinger.
The jury heard from 72 witnesses and received 840 exhibits. It deliberated for about 32 1/2 hours before announcing the verdicts Monday.
The jury never head from Bulger. He was defiant when the trial began on June 12, but seemed to shrink as witness after witness implicated him in horrific violence.
Some of the most hostile witnesses were the government’s three chief witnesses, ex-gang partners Flemmi, Martorano and Kevin Weeks, who set upon Bulger like snarling dogs.
The three struck cooperation deals with the government while Bulger was a fugitive for 16 years in California, eventually rising to the top spot on the FBI most wanted list. A caller to an FBI tip line led agents to Bulger two years ago. He was living with a girlfriend in a sunny, rent-controlled Santa Monica apartment. He had $822,000 in cash hidden in the walls.
After promising to testify for months, Bulger changed his mind on Aug. 1, criticizing U.S. District Judge Denise Casper’s decision not to allow him to defend himself by arguing that a federal prosecutor promised him immunity after he tipped the prosecutor to a mafia plot against him. Bulger never elaborated on the deal or the mafia plot.
“And my thing is, as far as I’m concerned, I didn’t get a fair trial,” Bulger said, when he revealed he would not take the witness stand. “And this is a sham. And do what youse want with me. That’s it. That’s my final word.”
Bulger lawyer Hank Brennan said after the verdict was announced Monday that Bulger is happy that he was able to use his trial to expose corruption in federal law enforcement.
The judge said Bulger will be sentenced over three days beginning on Nov. 13.
©2013 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
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