June 24, 2011
BOSTON — Former Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger was in a Boston Court Friday, to face 48 counts including murder, after more than 16 years on the run.
Bulger moved easily in Boston's Moakley Federal Courthouse, betraying no sign of the frailty that might be expected from an 81-year-old man. After entering, he mouthed "hi" to his brother, William Bulger, the former state Senate president.
During Bulger's indictment on murder charges, the accused requested a public defender, but prosecutors objected, saying he had the resources to pay for his own defense.
That's when "Whitey" cracked the joke of the day.
A federal attorney asked, "Can you afford a lawyer?"
"Well, I could if you gave me my money back," Whitey responded. "That's the only way."
Bulger was arrested on Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif., with over $800,000 in cash in his home.
For now, Bulger will be represented by Defense Attorney Peter Krupp. William Bulger pledged to help with Whitey's legal costs.
The return to Boston of fugitive gangster James "Whitey" Bulger after 16 years on the run was met Friday with high security at a courthouse not even built when he fled the city and curious spectators who don't remember the heyday of his alleged criminal enterprise. Several black SUVs with a police motorcycle escort paused briefly in front of before proceeding to a rear entrance, where occupants in some of the SUVs exited out of view.
Bulger's longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig, who was captured with him Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif., made her initial appearance shortly afterward.
Bulger appeared briefly in federal court Thursday in Los Angeles, agreeing to waive extradition. He was released from downtown's federal Metropolitan Detention Center into the custody of U.S. marshals early Friday, said jail spokesman Steve Gagliardi.
In this courtroom sketch, James 'Whitey' Bulger, left, and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, are shown during their arraignment in a federal courtroom in downtown LA on Thursday. (AP)
In Boston, the courthouse security included at least two Coast Guard boats, one state police vessel and a police boat patrolling the harbor directly behind the building.
One of the people in court will be a brother who was once one of the most powerful politicians in Massachusetts. William Bulger, the former state senate president, declined to comment when he arrived Friday afternoon. He referred to his earlier statement expressing sympathy for the "families hurt by the calamitous circumstances" of his brother's case.
Bulger's arrest appeared to end a long, frustrating manhunt that had embarrassed the FBI and raised questions about its efforts to find one of its most wanted fugitives.
But his capture could become a new chapter in an old scandal for the Boston FBI and others.
If Bulger decides to cut a deal with prosecutors, he could implicate an untold number of local, state and federal law enforcement officials, according to investigators who built a racketeering indictment against Bulger before he fled in 1995.
"If he starts to talk, there will be some unwelcome accountability on the part of a lot of people inside law enforcement," said retired Massachusetts state police Maj. Tom Duffy. "Let me put it this way: I wouldn't want my pension contingent on what he will say at this point."
Bulger is charged in connection with 19 murders. He had lived in Santa Monica for 15 of the last 16 years, according to his landlord.
Neighbors in Santa Monica were stunned to learn they had been living in the same building as the man who was the model for Jack Nicholson's ruthless crime boss in the 2006 Martin Scorsese movie "The Departed."
Bulger's flight in early 1995 allegedly came after a tip from former Boston FBI Agent John Connolly Jr., who was convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice in 2002 for protecting Bulger and his cohort Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi from prosecution. Both Bulger and Flemmi were FBI informants who ratted out members of their main rivals, the New England Mob.
During Connolly's trial, Bulger's right-hand man, Kevin Weeks, testified that Bulger boasted that he had corrupted six FBI agents and more than 20 Boston police officers. At holiday time, Bulger stuffed envelopes with cash, Weeks testified.
"He used to say that Christmas was for cops and kids," Weeks said.
Edward J. MacKenzie Jr., a former drug dealer and enforcer for Bulger, predicted that Bulger would disclose new details about FBI corruption and how agents protected him for so long.
"Whitey was no fool. He knew he would get caught. I think he'll have more fun pulling all those skeletons out of the closet," MacKenzie said.
"I think he'll start talking and he'll start taking people down."
Connolly, the retired FBI agent who was convicted of protecting Bulger, also was found guilty of murder in Miami for helping to set in motion a mob hit in 1982 against a business executive.
The Bulger arrest could have a huge impact on whether Connolly spends the rest of his life in a Florida prison. Connolly is set for release next Tuesday from a federal penitentiary after serving nearly 10 years for his Boston racketeering conviction.
But Connolly will be whisked to Florida right away to begin serving a 40-year sentence for his role in the slaying in Miami of gambling executive John Callahan. Connolly was convicted of murder in 2008 for tipping Bulger that Callahan was about implicate Bulger and Flemmi in the 1981 killing of Oklahoma businessman Roger Wheeler.
Connolly, who is appealing the conviction, insists he never fingered Callahan. Now, if Bulger backs up Connolly's story, it could change the outcome of the Florida case.
"If Bulger says that John (Connolly) had no involvement in the Callahan murder, then John will file a motion for new trial based on newly discovered evidence and should prevail," said Connolly's attorney Manuel Alvarez. "If that happens, we might see Whitey testifying in a Miami courtroom."
Margaret Chaberek, who grew up in Bulger's home base of South Boston, arrived at the courthouse Friday hours before his scheduled appearance. She was a child during the height of Bulger's career but found out in later news reports about the allegations against him.
"I'm here to see him get what he deserves," she said.
Brian and Ina Corcoran of suburban Braintree came to the courthouse on a day off to see a piece of history. Brian said he grew up in Boston and has always been fascinated by Bulger. Ina Corcoran is Canadian and didn't at first understand the fascination.
"It's a great story," she said as she and her husband sat on one of the few benches outside the fifth floor courtroom not taken over by reporters. She compared it to being in the courtroom with the notorious 20th century Chicago mobster Al Capone.
"If you could go back and time to be in that courtroom, wouldn't you?" she said.
WHITEY BULGER CAPTURED: FULL WGBH COVERAGE