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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where’s the outrage over FBI bungling?

About 20 years ago, some ATF agents went looking for Mark Rossetti, to lock him up.
Rossetti was a career criminal and ran with a violent band of thugs out of East Boston who used guns the way painters use brushes and carpenters use saws: tools of the trade.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents had a warrant for Rossetti on a gun charge, but every time they came close to arresting him, he somehow caught wind and eluded them.
After the ATF men finally caught Rossetti, they complained that an FBI agent named Mike Buckley was too cozy with Rossetti and didn’t want them to lock him up.
I’d say those ATF men had a legitimate beef, because according to some records I’ve come across, it turns out Mike Buckley was Rossetti’s handler back then.
Rossetti - violent thug, convicted armed robber, suspected murderer - worked for the FBI for something like 20 years. He wasn’t closed out as an FBI informant until last year, after the State Police locked him up on charges of running a violent loan-sharking and heroin ring.
The FBI made a big deal of saying it didn’t close out Rossetti sooner because the Staties had asked it not to, lest his sudden change of status tip him off that a law enforcement agency less well-disposed to him was on his case.
Left out of that statement was any admission that the FBI was wrong to recruit Rossetti in the first place, given his demonstrated penchant for guns and violence, or to maintain him as an informant when others in law enforcement suspected him of murder. Also left out was any mention that the FBI lied to the State Police when the Staties asked whether Rossetti was an FBI informant before launching the investigation that culminated with his arrest last year.
We don’t know exactly how long the FBI was paying Rossetti for information, if the FBI knew he was a suspect in at least a half-dozen killings, and how they could possibly justify using a guy with Rossetti’s record and reputation, because the FBI won’t say.
This is, of course, scandalous, outrageous, unacceptable, and, given the FBI’s attitude when it comes to public accountability, totally predictable. And it is in some ways worse than the Whitey Bulger debacle because the FBI and the Justice Department claimed to have learned their lessons after the FBI gave their then-informant Bulger carte blanche, not to mention some active assistance, to kill people while he was in their employ.
But back to Buckley, Rossetti’s original handler. This would be the same Buckley who was part of the organized-crime squad that took down the leadership of the local Mafia while simultaneously protecting their informants Bulger and Stevie Flemmi, two of the most vicious, murderous gangsters ever to breathe.
When all this came to light a decade ago, the Justice Department’s solution was to blame one agent, Whitey’s handler, John Connolly, and Connolly’s corrupt supervisor, John Morris.
This was sheer, unadulterated nonsense, an exercise in damage limitation. Connolly, now serving a 40-year sentence for helping Whitey kill a potential witness in Florida, took the fall for a bunch of other agents and supervisors.
Flemmi testified that the Bulger crew gave money and gifts not just to Connolly and Morris, but to a half-dozen other FBI agents, including Buckley. Buckley, who retired in 2003, denied this under oath, and was never charged.
Then again, he also said under oath, while testifying in Connolly’s defense during Connolly’s murder trial in 2008, that he didn’t know Bulger and Flemmi were suspected murderers until sometime in the 1990s.
Buckley said this despite being among the FBI agents who built the case against the Mafia in Boston, using bugs that in 1981 recorded Mafia underboss Jerry Angiulo lamenting that his henchmen were useless and that the Mafia had to rely on Bulger and Flemmi to kill people.
When Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak pointed out to Buckley that the Mafia’s use of Bulger and Flemmi as hit men was mentioned prominently and repeatedly during the Boston Mafia trials of the mid-1980s, Buckley still insisted he didn’t know Bulger and Flemmi were killers.
“I honestly don’t recall that,’’ Buckley testified. “I knew they were criminals, but I didn’t become familiar with how violent they were, what they were involved in, until the 1990s.’’
The only thing missing from the Miami courtroom that day was a laugh track.
I’m guessing Buckley and his supervisors would say they didn’t know that police and state prosecutors consider Rossetti a suspect in a half-dozen killings either, but that’s just an assumption because Buckley didn’t return my calls and the FBI ain’t talking.
After the Bulger debacle, one of the alleged reforms that emerged from hearings at the federal court and congressional hearings in Washington was that an assistant US attorney was supposed to oversee the FBI’s use of informants.
So, presumably, a federal prosecutor signed off on the use of Rossetti as an FBI informant until sometime last year, right?
“We never discuss informants,’’ said Christina Diorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who refused to talk about this.
Funny. It seemed that after Bulger, there was quite a bit of talk about informants, and we were promised our government had learned its lesson. Whatever the merits of the FBI’s recruitment of Rossetti as an informant, his keeping that status while he was widely known as a violent thug and suspect in many killings is inexcusable.
Let’s not be Pollyannish. To catch criminals, law enforcement agents very often have to use other criminals. But the Bulger saga supposedly set the bar at a certain level.
By any objective measure, the FBI ignored its own advice, and no one else in federal government challenged it, or seems in much of a rush to do so now.
So, again, where’s the outrage?



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