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Monday, September 12, 2011

Will Whitey Bulger escape justice once again?

Mob boss Whitey Bulger might be behind bars, but as his trial approaches, former associates, FBI agents, and victims' families speak about why he might get away and how Boston has never recovered. 

Of all the murders James “Whitey” Bulger is alleged to have committed, the killing of Debra Davis stands alone. Bulger is alleged to have strangled her with his bare hands.
Davis, 26, was the girlfriend of Bulger’s gangster partner, Steve Flemmi. Bulger and Flemmi were concerned that Davis, a blonde beauty, had learned that they were both informants for the FBI. One night in September 1981, Flemmi, 46 at the time, brought Davis to a house on Third Street in South Boston, or “Southie,” a tight-knit neighborhood that served as the base of Bulger and Flemmi’s criminal operations. After nearly nine years together, Davis wanted out of the relationship. Flemmi wanted her out also, but not in the way Davis planned.
Waiting in the house was Bulger, 52 years old, who suddenly emerged from the shadows and wrapped his hands around Davis’s throat. She struggled to break free. Squeezing tightly, Bulger dragged Davis down to the basement, where he finished her off. Afterward, using a pair of pliers, Flemmi pulled out Davis’s teeth so that the body could not be identified by dental records. They later trussed and wrapped up the body and dumped it in a shallow grave near the Neponset River in Quincy, Mass.
Steve Davis never got the chance to say goodbye to his sister. She disappeared seemingly without a trace. Several times Flemmi went to Steve’s mother’s house in tears, professing not to know where Debra was, but that was it.
Looking back now, Steve has some regrets. He had his own run-ins with the law, and knew all about Bulger and Flemmi. “I tried to warn her,” he remembers. “I said, ‘Your boyfriend is not a nice guy. He’s dangerous. People fear him.’ She would say, ‘Yeah. But what’s he gonna do to me?’?”
Whitey Bulger in police photos from 1953, 1984, and 2011., From left: Boston Police / The Boston Globe-AP; FBI-AP, U.S. Marshals Service-AP
The Davis family suspected Bulger and Flemmi of having killed Debra. Her mother had conversations with FBI agents who claimed they were investigating the disappearance, but they seemed more interested in what she knew about Flemmi than the whereabouts of Debra. Steve wanted to talk to the FBI with his mother, who was meeting with agents at strange locations and odd hours, but she said no. Steve says, “When an agent told her, ‘You have nine other kids to worry about now,’ she took that as a threat and stopped meeting with them.”
It took nearly 20 years for the Davis family to learn that Debra had been the victim of a homicide, and that Bulger and Flemmi were the culprits. The details of the killing, and Bulger and Flemmi’s role as top-echelon informants for the FBI, was revealed by Flemmi in the late 1990s, when he was arrested and became the biggest snitch in the history of the Boston underworld. In court, Flemmi described the murder in grisly detail. Meanwhile, Bulger was on the run, where he remained for 16 years, living for a time near the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., until he was spectacularly apprehended last June.
Steve Davis remembers the day he learned Bulger had been captured. He watched Bulger being transferred from Santa Monica, where he had been living with his female companion, Catherine Greig. Davis thought, it’s not a done deal. With the power Bulger has had in politics and with the FBI, he could find a way to manipulate the situation to his advantage. Now Davis is fixated on what he’d do to Bulger.
“I’m an eye-for-eye kind of guy,” says Davis. “I’d do to him what he did to my sister ... They talk about closure. Fuck closure. Give me 15 minutes with Bulger and I’ll give him closure. I’ll shoot him in the fuckin’ head.”
Since last June, when news of the capture of Bulger and Greig first settled over Boston, the city has been stewing in its own juices. Family members of Bulger’s many alleged victims (he is charged with 19 murders) want the full weight of the criminal-justice system brought to bear on him. Federal prosecutors have begun strategizing: in July, all the racketeering counts against Bulger were dropped so that the U.S. Attorney’s Office can focus on the murder charges. The prosecutors’ thinking is that this way the road to justice will be less encumbered by Bulger’s staggering multitude of criminal acts stretching back to the mid-1960s and across the country, with outstanding murder indictments in Florida and Oklahoma.
Debra Davis
Debra Davis: Allegedly strangled by Bulger and her boyfriend, Steve Flemmi., Boston Herald-Polaris
Justice in court is one thing, and outside the courtroom something else entirely. Forty years ago, when Jim Bulger first rose to power in the city’s crime world, he did so as the result of a revenge war that lasted almost a decade. When it was over, in 1975, Bulger emerged as the key power broker. It was also around this time that he secretly began to work as an informant for the FBI, under the supervision of Special Agent John Connolly. Bulger fed him information about the local Mafia. In return, Connolly tipped off Bulger about investigations in which he was a target.
And then there was his brother, former state senator William “Billy” Bulger, one of the state’s most powerful politicians. Billy sometimes ran interference by inquiring about law-enforcement investigations involving his brother and making implied threats.
Over the decades, criminals and average citizens were drawn into what The Boston Globe christened “the Bulger Mystique.” Many are now looking for justice. But to those who know Bulger best, their concern is how he might try to use his current predicament to exact revenge on his enemies.
“Since at least the early ’90s, he’s had a strategy for when he got pinched,” says Kevin Weeks, who was Bulger’s right-hand man and his muscle at the height of his power. “It’s his nature to be manipulative. Machiavellian. He’ll be looking to hurt people who hurt him. To even scores. He will want to rewrite history.”
In 1999, after Bulger went on the run and Flemmi began to spill his guts to the feds, Weeks cut his own deal with the government. He literally told investigators where the bodies were buried, including the body of Debra Davis.
What Weeks remembers best about Bulger is this: “He was a hard guy, tough as nails. A stone-cold killer. I know he’s 82 now, but still, he’s in great shape, mentally strong. I hear they’ve got him in protective custody to protect him from other inmates. But don’t put it past him: he might try to kill somebody himself. Put a shank in his hand and he’d know what to do with it.”
Richard Marinick is another former South Boston criminal who had dealings with Bulger. In the early 1980s, Marinick was a Massachusetts state trooper. He then crossed over to the other side of the law. Eventually, Marinick got busted on an armed-robbery charge, but before that he had numerous encounters with Bulger.
It was a rule of the Boston underworld that Bulger was supposed to get a cut from any criminal activity that took place in his jurisdiction. He heard that Marinick’s crew was making scores locally, and he wanted a piece of the action. Marinick remembers, “I’m walking along the street in Southie one day, and Bulger’s car pulls up. He says, ‘Get in.’ I’m sitting in the back seat, face to face with Jimmy. He says, ‘You’re a health nut, right, a healthy guy?’ Bulger was into good health, eating right, taking vitamin supplements; we’d talked about it before. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘what you’re doing now is not very healthy.’ He explained to me, ‘Our primary line of business is racketeering. Our secondary line of business is killing people. You do not want to be part of our secondary line of business ... I will kill you and run your body through the meat-grinding plant. I will grind up your body, put it in a plastic bag, and leave it on your mother’s doorstep.’”
As a negotiator, Bulger’s tactics were simple. “He absolutely terrified people, made them literally piss and shit in their pants,” says Marinick. “His high was making people afraid of him; that’s how he got pleasure from what he did.” Marinick, like Weeks, sees Bulger as an obsessive manipulator and schemer, proclivities he is now likely to apply to his current predicament as an incarcerated criminal.
Among the gangsters in Boston who interacted with Bulger, few were in as privileged a position as Patrick Nee. Like Bulger, Nee grew up in South Boston. A former Marine who served in Vietnam in the early 1960s, he returned home in 1965 just as the Boston gang wars were heating up. He was a prominent member of the Mullen gang, which clashed with Bulger’s crew. On multiple occasions, Nee and Bulger tried to kill one another, with Bulger shooting at Nee, and Nee stalking Bulger with a rifle. Today, whenever he is asked if he has any regrets in life, Nee responds, “I wish I’d killed Whitey Bulger when I had the opportunity.”
By the 1980s, Nee was in business with Bulger. They took part in an arms-smuggling operation in an attempt to send weapons to the Irish Republican Army. Nee was arrested and served eight years in prison. Afterward, Nee began to have suspicions about Bulger. “I knew something wasn’t right,” he says. “Others were getting arrested and sent to jail, but Bulger and Flemmi never seemed to get touched. We knew they had a relationship with Connolly; our understanding was that they were paying Connolly—he was on the take. But we didn’t know Whitey and Stevie were rats, supplying Connolly and the feds with information about us.”
Bulger may want to exact revenge and escape his current predicament, but does he have any cards left to play? His court-appointed attorney is J. W. Carney, a respected Boston lawyer known as the “patron saint of hopeless cases.” Currently, Carney’s law firm is poring over more than 17,000 pages of discovery material related to the Bulger case delivered to it by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Bulger’s choices are limited. He could plead guilty to the murder charges in exchange for a better deal for Greig, his companion, who is facing five years in prison for aiding and abetting a fugitive. He might also cop a plea to avoid the death penalty, as Flemmi did. Or he could go to trial.
Paul Griffin is an attorney who represented the family of Debra Davis in a civil lawsuit against the FBI and U.S. government. The suit alleged that the Davis family and other families of Bulger and Flemmi’s victims were entitled to damages, since the U.S. Justice Department had virtually underwritten the criminal careers of two notorious mobsters. He believes that Bulger faces insurmountable odds. “Any plea that he agrees to, he gets a telephone pole shoved up the ass. If he goes to trial, he gets a telephone pole shoved up the ass.”
Bulger’s ability to maneuver is hindered by the fact that all of his criminal co-conspirators have already cut deals with the feds. Flemmi pleaded guilty to 10 murders in October 2003 and was spared a lethal injection in exchange for his testimony. He is serving a life term. Johnny Martorano, another prolific Bulger hit man, confessed to 20 killings in 1999. In exchange for his testimony, he received a light 14-year prison sentence and was released in 2007.
“I hope Bulger enjoyed his years on the run,” says Anthony Cardinale, a criminal defense attorney who was among the first to uncover the Bulger-Connolly informant relationship. “Because now he’s late to the game. All of the others have made their deals, told their version of events. Bulger is facing a solid wall of discovery evidence going back decades, and there’s no one left for him to take down.”
For many, the deep stain of the Bulger years will never be expunged until his alliance with the government is fully exposed. Bulger’s case agent, John Connolly, is in prison on obstruction-of-justice and second-degree-murder charges stemming from his relationship with Bulger. Connolly’s supervisor, John Morris, pleaded guilty to taking $7,000 in bribes and gifts from Bulger; he was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony. But others in the FBI and the political arena who facilitated Bulger’s “unholy alliance” have never been held accountable.
Retired FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick, a lonely voice during the Bulger years who tried to point out corruption in the Boston office, has always maintained that the culpability should be spread far and wide. “I don’t believe in the rogue-agent theory,” he says. “Connolly didn’t do it alone. His dealings with Bulger were facilitated by the entire system.”
For nearly a decade, Fitzpatrick tried to right the ship. A veteran agent who served at the academy as an instructor on how to develop informants, Fitzpatrick was sent to Boston by his supervisors to evaluate Bugler’s “suitability” as a source.
When Fitzpatrick met Bulger, the mob boss was wearing a Red Sox baseball cap and sunglasses, standing in his kitchen. Fitzpatrick extended his hand for Bulger to shake, but Bulger wouldn’t take it. “He proceeds to tell me what a tough guy he is, starts bragging about his prison experiences in Leavenworth and Attica.”
“I got the impression that he was withholding,” says Fitzpatrick. “The meeting was a half hour to 45 minutes. I cut it short. It was clear to me that Bulger could not be trusted, and that he likely had a propensity for violence. He was dangerous.”
The FBI agent filed a two-page report recommending that Bulger be “closed” as an informant. But he was overruled, and that began a long period in which Fitzpatrick’s Bulger-related cases were mysteriously derailed. “We had four Bulger-related informants murdered, as we now know, by Bulger and Flemmi. Information about [confidential informants] was leaked to Bulger by our own people in law enforcement.” Fitzpatrick became frustrated. “I was becoming a pain in the ass to people. I was bucking the tide. I started to feel as though I wasn’t part of the team. I lost my trust in the system.”
In the years since the Bulger House of Horrors began to crumble, Fitzpatrick has emerged as a rare good guy in the story. Now he worries that Bulger will resume his Svengali-like gaming of the system. “This guy controlled the entire criminal-justice system in the state of Massachusetts. And he’s still got that attitude. He’s going to be cute. He’s going to try to manipulate people, just as he’s always done.”
The prospect of a trial has many in Boston licking their chops. Howie Carr, author of a best-selling book on the Bulger brothers, thinks a long criminal proceeding would be good for the city. “There are still a lot of loose ends,” he says. Of all the loose ends, some of the most intriguing involve Billy Bulger. “I would like to see Billy indicted,” says Carr. Many feel Whitey would do almost anything to protect his brother.
Now, with subpoenas being rendered and grand-jury hearings underway, the U.S. Attorney’s Office appears to be focusing on who may have aided Bulger while he was a fugitive. Fresh criminal charges stemming from Bulger’s years on the run could be used to implicate others—perhaps, say, Billy Bulger—which would aid prosecutors in their efforts to demythologize the Bulger Mystique once and for all.



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