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Three men charged in prison killing of Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger

James “Whitey” Bulger in 2011 after his arrest. He was beaten to death in a West Virginia prison in 2018.

Three men have been indicted in the killing of James “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious Boston gangster who was beaten to death in 2018 while serving a life sentence in a West Virginia prison, federal prosecutors said on Thursday.

Fotios Geas, 55, Paul J. DeCologero, 48, and Sean McKinnon, 36, were each charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, along with several other crimes. The charges come nearly four years after Bulger was found unresponsive and badly bludgeoned at the U.S. Penitentiary Hazelton in Bruceton Mills, W.Va. He was 89.

Bulger’s bloody reign as Boston’s most brutal gangster spanned three tumultuous decades. He was an FBI informant, recruited to snitch on his Mafia rivals, and he later landed on the bureau’s Most Wanted list after fleeing ahead of an impending grand jury indictment. During his time as a fugitive, Bulger prompted a congressional inquiry and inspired Hollywood villains. He spent more than 16 years on the run before he was arrested in California.

Bulger received consecutive life terms for his role in 11 murders and 31 counts of racketeering, and he was initially incarcerated in Florida. He was transferred to Hazelton in October 2018 and was killed less than 24 hours after his arrival, raising questions about why he was moved and whether enough was done to ensure his safety after he was placed in the general population of one of the nation’s most violent prisons.

Geas and DeCologero are accused of repeatedly striking Bulger in the head — the blows that caused his death — and they face additional charges of aiding and abetting first-degree murder and assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Geas was charged separately for murder by a federal inmate serving a life sentence, and McKinnon was charged with making false statements to a federal agent.

Geas and DeCologero are both still in federal prison, while McKinnon was on supervised release when he was indicted, prosecutors said. He was arrested in Florida on Thursday.

Bulger was using a wheelchair at the time of his death, and prison surveillance footage captured two men steering him out of view, authorities said then. Off camera, he was reportedly beaten with a padlock stuffed inside a sock. In media reports following the killing, law enforcement officials described a brutal assault: Bulger was “unrecognizable,” one said; his eyes were nearly gouged out, according to others.

It was one of several violent prisoner deaths at the facility that year, and the high-profile homicide drew increased scrutiny to Hazelton’s history of complaints about inadequate staffing and a lack of control. As a long-outed FBI-collaborator, Bulger had a target on his back, and his family believed he was “deliberately placed in harm’s way.”

They filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Justice Department in 2020, asserting Bulger was “perhaps the most infamous and well-known inmate” since Al Capone and accusing officials of not sufficiently protecting him. A federal judge dismissed the suit earlier this year.

An attorney for Geas did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Thursday charges, and it was not immediately clear if DeCologero and McKinnon had legal representation.

According to court records reviewed by The Washington Post in 2018, Geas, who went by Freddy, was serving a life sentence after two murder convictions and was a Massachusetts-based associate of New York’s Genovese crime family. After Geas was named as a suspect in Bulger’s death, a private investigator who worked with him told the Boston Globe: “Freddy hated rats.”

Paul Duggan, Peter Hermann and Amy Brittain contributed to this report.