BOSTON — James “Whitey” Bulger’s capture could cause a world of trouble inside the FBI.
The ruthless Boston crime boss who spent 16 years in hiding is said to have boasted that he corrupted six FBI agents and more than 20 police officers. If he decides to talk, some of them could rue the day he was caught.
“They are holding their breath, wondering what he could say,” said Robert Fitzpatrick, the former second-in-command of the Boston FBI office.
The 81-year-old gangster was captured Wednesday in Santa Monica, California, where he apparently had been living for most of the time he was a fugitive. He appeared Friday afternoon inside a heavily guarded federal courthouse in Boston to answer for his role in 19 murders.
Bulger, wearing jeans and a white shirt, looked tan and fit and walked with a slight hunch at back-to-back hearings on two indictments. He asked that a public defender be appointed to represent him, but the government objected, citing the $800,000 seized from his Southern California apartment and his “family resources.”
“We think he has access to more cash,” said prosecutor Brian Kelly.
Bulger, the former boss of the Winter Hill Gang, Boston’s Irish mob, embroiled the FBI in scandal after he disappeared in 1995. It turned out that Bulger had been an FBI informant for two decades, feeding the bureau information on the rival New England Mafia, and that he fled after a retired Boston FBI agent tipped him off that he was about to be indicted.
The retired agent, John Connolly Jr., was sent to prison for protecting Bulger. The FBI depicted Connolly as a rogue agent, but Bulger associates described more widespread corruption in testimony at Connolly’s trial and in lawsuits filed by the families of people allegedly killed by Bulger and his gang.
At the second hearing, Bulger took a swipe at prosecutors after Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler asked him if he could afford to pay for an attorney.
“Well, I could, if they would give me my money back,” he replied in his unmistakable Boston accent, prompting laughter in the courtroom.
Kelly implied that Bulger’s cash came from illegal activities.
“He clearly didn’t make that on a paper route on Santa Monica Boulevard,” he said.
Prosecutors asked that Bulger be held without bail, saying he is danger to the community and may try to threaten witnesses.
“He’s also, quite obviously, a risk of flight,” Kelly said.
Kelly also said Catherine Greig, Bulger’s longtime girlfriend who was arrested with him, told court officials that Bulger’s brother may be willing to assist him in posting bail.
Bulger did not ask for a detention hearing, but his lawyer said he may later make an argument that Bulger should be released on bail while awaiting trial.
The amount of money found in Bulger’s apartment confirmed a longheld belief by investigators that he kept large stashes of cash for a life on the run.
“We clearly don’t think this is his last stash,” Kelly said.
When Bulger walked into the courtroom, he saw his brother William, the former powerful leader of the state Senate, seated in the second row. Whitey Bulger smiled at him and mouthed, “Hi.” His brother smiled back.
Greig appeared in court a few minutes later on charges of harbouring a fugitive. She asked for a hearing to determine whether she can be released on bail, and one was scheduled for next week.
Kevin Weeks, Bulger’s right-hand man, said the crime lord stuffed envelopes with cash for law enforcement officers at holiday time. “He used to say that Christmas was for cops and kids,” Weeks testified.
After a series of hearings in the late 1990s, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf found that more than a dozen FBI agents had broken the law or violated FBI regulations.
Among them was Connolly’s former supervisor, John Morris, who admitted he took about $7,000 in bribes and a case of expensive wine from Bulger and henchman Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. Morris testified under a grant of immunity.
In addition, Richard Schneiderhan, a former Massachusetts state police lieutenant, was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy for warning a Bulger associate that the FBI had wiretapped the phones of Bulger’s brothers.
Edward J. MacKenzie Jr., a former drug dealer and enforcer for Bulger, predicted that Bulger will disclose new details about FBI corruption and how agents protected him for so long.
“Whitey was no fool. He knew he would get caught. I think he’ll have more fun pulling all those skeletons out of the closet,” MacKenzie said. “I think he’ll start talking and he’ll start taking people down.”
A spokesman for the Boston FBI did not return calls seeking comment. In the past, the agency has said that a new generation of agents has replaced most or all of the agents who worked in the Boston office while Bulger was an informant.
Some law enforcement officials said they doubt Bulger will try to cut a deal with prosecutors by exposing corruption, in part because he will almost certainly be asked to reveal what contact he had with his brothers while he was a fugitive and whether they helped him in any way.
“If Bulger talks, he would have to talk about his brothers, and I can’t see that happening, said retired state police Detective Lt. Bob Long, who investigated Bulger in the 1970s and ’80s.”They are not going to take selective information from him — it’s either full and complete co-operation or nothing.“
Criminal defence attorney and former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Raymond Mansolillo said Bulger may not have any incentive to talk. “The FBI may say, ’You’re going to jail or you’re going to be killed. We’re not offering you anything,”’ said Mansolillo, who once represented New England crime figure Luigi “Baby Shacks” Manocchio.
But retired Massachusetts state police Maj. Tom Duffy, one of the lead investigators in the Bulger case, said Bulger may agree to talk if he thinks it could help his girlfriend.
“It’s very possible he’s concerned about her well-being — she was with him for 16 years and was very loyal to him,” Duffy said. “That may be a bargaining chip for the government during negotiations.”
The question of whether Bulger will be given a public defender will be decided later. A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday. He did not enter a plea.
Bulger is “looking forward to facing the charges against him,” said Peter Krupp, a lawyer assigned to represent Bulger for purposes of Friday’s hearing only.
Among the onlookers at the courthouse was Margaret Chaberek, who grew up in Bulger’s home turf of South Boston. “I’m here to see him get what he deserves,” she said.
Associated Press writers Johanna Kaiser, Laura Crimaldi in Providence, Rhode Island, and Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.