As Bulger netted millions of dollars in extortion, gambling and drug dealing — his attorney didn’t deny these criminal undertakings during opening statements — FBI agents, including Connolly, provided cover in exchange for his help with the local mafia, according to a lengthy ruling by a Boston federal judge and other investigations through the years.
A 2004 report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found “no doubt” that law-enforcement personnel, including FBI officials, were aware that informants, including Bulger, “were committing murders.”
Keith Ausbrook, who had been the chief counsel for the committee, said in a recent interview that “you don’t expect your informants to be angels, but you don’t expect them to be murderers either. And you certainly hope the FBI’s not helping them.”
But agents were. Connolly tipped off Bulger to a looming indictment. He was found guilty in 2002 on federal charges related to his partnership with Bulger. Connolly is serving 40 years in prison for second-degree murder after he gave information to Bulger and Flemmi that resulted in them urging a hit man to kill a witness.
Bulger’s attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., argued in early motions in the case that Bulger had received immunity for his crimes from federal officials. U.S. District Judge Denise J. Casper ruled that such a defense was not admissible. During his opening statement, Carney said that Bulger was never an informant and that he had simply paid off police and FBI agents.
“The evidence will show that he was never an informant,” Carney said, a statement that drew audible laughter from reporters covering the trial.
Kelly, the prosecutor, said, “Even though you will hear he didn’t like informants or rats, the evidence in this case will be that Bulger was one of the biggest informants in Boston.”
A life on the lam
Bulger’s career in the city’s underworld ran parallel to his brother’s rise as one of the most powerful politicians in Massachusetts. William Bulger was president of the state Senate for nearly two decades and later president of the University of Massachusetts.
But in 2003 William Bulger left U-Mass., and public life, following a battle with then-governor Mitt Romney over his loyalty to his gangster brother. According to leaked testimony, William Bulger had told a grand jury that “it’s my hope that I’m never helpful to anyone against him.” He invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during the House committee hearings. He later testified after being granted immunity.
William Bulger was not in court Wednesday morning.
Bostonians have for decades been consumed with a question that showed up on T-shirts and book covers: “Where’s Whitey?” Although the FBI had been accused of not wanting to find Bulger, perhaps for fear he would disclose more corruption, the agency renewed efforts to find him several years ago.
There had been alleged sightings around the world, but it turned out Bulger and one of his longtime girlfriends had been living the life of retirees in Santa Monica, Calif. He was turned in by a former neighbor, the ex-beauty queen from Iceland. She received a $2 million reward.
Carney said Bulger, then on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, was not hiding in California. In fact, the lawyer said, he was living in “plain sight.” But Carney did not mention that Bulger was living under an assumed name with false identification and dozens of weapons — and $800,000 in cash — stashed in the walls.
The story of Bulger’s extraordinary life is being turned into two movies, one by Barry Levinson, the other by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who chronicled working-class life in their home town in “Good Will Hunting.” The fascination with the Bulger case across broad swaths of city life was apparent during jury selection, when several potential jurors said they had read “Black Mass,” a bestselling book about Bulger by two former Boston Globe reporters.
But there is also disdain for Bulger and what he did to the community. When asked to comment on Bulger’s life and trial and what it means for Boston, Dennis Lehane, a local crime novelist and author of “Mystic River,” declined.
“I don’t give Whitey free press,” he said through his assistant.
Asked the same question, Mona Connolly Casper, the president of the South Boston Irish American Society, said: “Nope, not a chance, not at all.”