Feature Articles

April 2000

On The Lam. The Whitey Bulger Story

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

"It's better to know the judge then the law" Irish Proverb

The FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list turned fifty years old this year, and sitting at the very top of the list Tis Himself, Whitey Bulger, Boston own home-grown gangster and brother to the former president of the state Senate.

Its one of the oddities of American Criminal Justice, that Bulger is at the top of the enemies list of the very organization that may have helped the gangster escape Justice in the first place.

Exactly how that happened is a study in ethnic tribalism, poor judgement, mislaid loyalties and greed.

FBI agent John Connolly, and bad guy James "Whitey" Bulger, both the sons of Irish immigrants, grew up in drab housing projects of South Boston, or Southie, as the natives call it, a close knit, depressing and dreary, mostly Irish, mostly working poor, neighborhood.

Jimmy Bulger, he detests the name Whitey, knew Connolly from the neighborhood, not well, but he knew him. Connolly was closer to Billy Bulger, the brother who went straight, and as a result, went places.

A brilliant student with an earthy sense of humor, Billy entered politics and eventually became President of the state Senate, and is currently the head of the University of Massachusetts,

Billy Bulger took a liking to the young Connolly, and mentored him, guiding the sharp young man out of South Boston and into Boston College for a Bachelors degree and to Harvard for a Masters.

Connolly reciprocated by becoming a loyal Bulger man, working in his various campaigns, and parading each new Bureau chief to Bulger's office when he sat in the State Senate Presidents chair.

Jimmy Bulger took a different route to fame. He robbed a bank and ended up in Alcatraz. He got off The Rock early by volunteering for government sponsored LSD experiments.

Released back to the streets of Boston, Jimmy Bulger returned to Southie and to the mostly Irish, Winter Hill gang that ruled over the area.

At the same time, John Connolly was working in the FBI's Organized Crime Unit in Boston, charged with busting up the growing power of the New England mob.

It was Connolly who flipped an informant named Sonny Mercurio, and in turn, the hood tipped him off about Mafia induction ceremony. Connolly bugged the place, and got the most valuable evidence the FBI has ever obtained, a live recording of a Mafia swearing in ritual

When Connolly started hauling in that sort information, the Bureau pressured him for even more miracles, and Connolly delivered.

As part of his mission to smash the Outfit, in October of 1975, Connolly and Jimmy Bulger met in a darkened parking lot that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean, and Connolly made his pitch to flip Bulger.

"Jimmy" Connolly said "Your buddies in the Mafia want to give you up to the cops. Why not give up your buddies in the Mafia to us?" working under the code name "Charlie," Whitey Bulger fed Connolly a steady stream of reliable information on the New England Mafia.

But did it go further than that?

The stories of the Connolly's protection of Bulger, and his Winter Hill gang, are now the stuff of legend around Boston. Like the time that the gang fixed races at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, and several other racetracks, by paying jockeys to hold back their horses. A score of Winter Hill hoods went to jail on that one, but not Bulger. In fact, when the smoke cleared, Bulger was the gang's leader.

And then there was the goodies, the freebies.

Connolly admits that after working closely with Bulger, that he and other agents exchanged holiday gifts with the gangster and accepted dinner party's invitations as well.

That would have been marginally acceptable, but, if the testimony of John Morris, a Bureau field supervisor, is to be believed, even though Bulger was released as an informant in 1990, Morris says that Connolly stayed close to the gangster, and even warned him about the pending indictments, allowing the gangster ample time to escape justice.

Morris also claims that he accepted $7,000 in cash bribes from Bulger, and that Connolly delivered at least two of those pay off's, of $1,000 each, which were placed under the bottom of a case of expensive wine that Connolly delivered to Morris in the garage below the FBI's Boston offices.

Connolly also allegedly received free household appliances from Broadw ay Appliance, a South Boston store controlled by Bulger. The reports said that the hoods gave Connolly a refrigerator, dishwasher and stove, among other things.

Adding to Connolly's woes is federal grand jury probe into a series of highly suspicious real estate deals by him that appear to have Jimmy Bulger's markings all over them.

Earlier this year, Connolly, who has long since retired from the Bureau, was indicted, charged with racketeering and obstruction of justice. That case hinges on the government's assertion that Connolly's relationship became so close with Bulger and the gang, that he became a partner in crime with them.

The Fed's charged Connolly with warning Bulger and others of up coming investigations, falsifying reports to hide their crimes, passing bribes, and allege that Connolly derailed an investigation into the extortion of a South Boston family forced to turn over its liquor store to Bulger.

If that's true, its pathetic and unforgivable.

In 1984, Stephen Rakes was allegedly approached by Bulger with a bag containing $64,000, and told by Bulger that he wanted to buy the store. Rakes said it wasn't for sale.

According to Rakes, Bulger drew a pistol, complimented Rakes young daughter and said "It'll be a shame not to be able to see her grow up"

Rakes went to the Boston police, who took the case to Connolly, who, according to the indictment, falsely told the cops that unless Rakes agreed to wear a wire to record Bulger, that the FBI was unlikely to take action on the complaint.

Prosecutors say that not only did Connolly fail to pursue the case, he allegedly warned Bulger about Rakes complaint to the Boston P. D.

On an even more sinister scale, Bulger allegedly had one of his enforcers pump a bullet into the back of the head of Roger Wheeler, the chairman of Telex Corporation, as he finished a round of golf in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

According to Brian Halloran, a former member of the Snow Hill gang, who was supposed to do the killing, Bulger wanted Wheeler dead so he could take over his Jai Alai frontons in Florida and Connecticut.

Halloran identified professional hitman John Martorano as the killer, and said that Bulger was at the scene of the crime, in a getaway car.

But, despite the wealth of evidence he provided, the Boston FBI Bureau refused a deal with Halloran, and concluded he wasn't credible.

Shortly afterwards, person's unknown gunned Halloran as he walked down a Boston Street.

Through it all, Connolly denies any wrong doing "He was a hell of guy" Connolly told an always indignant Washington Post about Bulger "I know damn well the guy is no Boy Scout. But, I'd be lying if I said I didn't like him"

When asked to explain the G man's behavior, one of the lawyers in the case said "This indictment is a whitewash, designed to cover up the institutional practices and philosophy of the FBI in the 1970s and 1980s, which encouraged the kind of relationship Bulger had with the FBI to achieve a perceived greater goal - the destruction of La Cosa Nostra"

Maybe so, but more than one Law Enforcement official was overjoyed to hear that Connolly had been arrested and hauled out of his comfortable suburban home in handcuffs.

" I feel for his family" one former DEA agent said "But John was a (X@C&*#@) of the highest order. He hurt a lot of people. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went down the crapper, thanks to John. I can still see the wardrobe. The cuff links. We gave John a nickname "Giovanni Connollino". He was the only agent I knew who took style tips from John Gotti"

If Connolly's name in the halls of power in Washington, down in the narrow streets of Southie, Bulger still enjoys a sort of Robin Hood reputation as the guy who kept drugs and violence out of South Boston's neighborhoods, which is not true. At all.

Bulger's status as a local hero was confirmed when Boston City Council President James Kelly called him "A gentleman" and has openly defended him in the past.

The endorsement is questionable.

Mr. Kelly's name popped up during a hearing into the Bulger gangs extortion of a Raymond Slinger, a South Boston Realtor.

According to Slinger, in 1987, Bulger and his boys threatened to kill the Broker if he didn't fork over $50,000 in protection money.

Slinger said he went to Kelly for help. A day later, Kelly called Slinger and told him that the issue was resolved and that he would have no other troubles out of the Winter Hill mob.

Shortly afterwards, Slinger was called to a meeting at one of Bulger's bar rooms where he was severely beaten.

However, Jimmy's reputation as a likable rouge took a turn for the worst at the start of this year when one of his gang members led investigators to a spot in Dorchester where the skeletal remains of three mob victims were buried.

The bones belonged to John McIntyre, Arthur Barrett, and Deborah Hussey, the daughter of Flemmi's longtime girlfriend, all of whom disappeared between 1983 and 1984.

They may have killed Barrett, a bank robber, for his share of the $1.5 million take from a robbery he pulled with the Winter Hill gang.

The women, Hussey, may have been killed because she simply knew too much about everything

McIntyre was an otherwise honest man, deeply committed to the cause of freedom in Northern Ireland, who got involved with Bulger's convoluted gun running schemes to the IRA.

And where is Jimmy Bulger today?

Well, the FBI certainly doesn't know, even though they've tried to squeeze Bulger's family for information. But that's not going to happen, since Bulger's sister, Jena Holland, has been battling the state for five years to have herself declared her brothers "absentee receiver"

And understandably so. It seems that before he disappeared, Jimmy Bulger's Irish luck came into play one more time, when he won the state lottery, some 1.9 million dollars, or $119,000 for twenty years.

Back in the 1980's, the son of Chicago's mob boss, Tony Accardo, also won the lottery.

The Fed's don't, or course, believe Jimmy Bulger actually won the jack pot fair and square. They do believe that he got hold of the winning ticket through one of his money laundering schemes, paying the real winner $700,000 in cash to turn the ticket over to him.

When Jimmy disappeared, the Fed's forfeited the lottery winnings, and refused to turn it over to Jimmy's sister because it's not clear that Bulger has fled the state.

The case has been in court ever since.

Bulger has been gone for five years and several months, and the FBI doesn't appear to be any closer to caching him today then they were then.

In fairness, Bulger must have seen the end coming, because in 1994, he stashed piles of money in safe deposit boxes around the country and created four or five new identities for himself.

"He just blends in" a member of the Task Force said "He looks like everyone else. He stays out of trouble. He has never been arrested for anything since 1995 and he uses strictly cash."

If my sources in the New England rumor mill are true, Jimmy Bulger caught a mail plane to Europe and is living comfortably on the barren west coast of Ireland, sipping whiskey and watching the ocean float by.

Will the FBI catch Bulger?

Probably. The odds are in their favor. Since 1950, 458 people have made the FBI's top ten list, and 429 of them have been captured.

Hiding out in the rain drenched hills of the Old Sod may not help much either. There's a $250,000 reward on his head and that's a lot of money in a poor country like Ireland.

And then there's the tourist factor.

Leslie Rogge knows about that. In 1996, Rogge, a bank robber, was spotted in Guatemala by a 14-year-old American tourist who found his picture on the Internet.

Ireland largest industry is tourism.

The tragedy of this mess, aside from darkening the name of the otherwise good name of the FBI, is that it overshadows the tremendous field work done by the Boston office to crush what had been the rapidly growing influence and might of the New England mob.

Stay tuned.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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