Friday, June 24, 2011

James J. “Whitey” Bulger comes home to Boston

James J. ‘Whitey’ Bulger is to come home to Boston – at last, having featured on America’s Ten Most Wanted List for 12 years and having terrorised this great city for six decades.

When I lived in Boston from 2002 until 2005 I met his younger brother, William (Bill) M Bulger, from time to time. Bill, born on 1934, was five years younger than Whitey and was a powerful force in Massachusetts politics for over four decades and concluded his political career as the President of Massachusetts State Senate from 1978 to 1996. Bill was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1961, motivated like many ambitious politicians’ by innocence rather than arrogance, and convinced that he had discovered injustice and that he had the passion to end it promptly. He became a State Senator in 1971.  After politics he became the 24th President of the University of Massachusetts in 1996 but was summarily removed from this role by then Republican Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney in 2003.

The Bulgers’ were reared in a public housing project on Logan Way in South Boston. Their father worked as a longshoreman until he lost his arm in an industrial accident in 1936.  That event threw the family into severe poverty.

Bill Bulger served in the US Army from 1953 to 1955 at Fort Bliss, Texas. When he returned to Boston in August 1955 he got, what he described, as ‘the greatest shock of his life’ when he learnt that his older brother, ‘Whitey’, was in jail awaiting trial on a charge of bank robbery. But Whitey was first arrested for theft in 1943 when he was 14 years old!

Apart from acknowledging that ‘Whitey’ was his older brother Bill did not speak in public about his. But he had seen him change from an outgoing and cheerful human being to becoming a rebel whose objectives were never terribly clear. Whitey Bulger was said to be in a constant state of agitation and his whereabouts, when his parents were alive, were frequently unascertainable. Whitey was a keep-fit fanatic who neither smoked nor drank alcohol and he kept a spotted, leopard-like cat as a pet that grew so large it was eventually taken to the zoo by their father.

When Whitey was in his twenties he was prone to become involved in street fights and became known to the Boston cops. He left the home neighbourhood without warning for several months and joined a circus as an unskilled labourer.

Among his friends Whitey was always regarded as the leader, which brother Bill admitted was the only role Whitey would tolerate. His leadership was characterised by never raising his voice when he wanted something done. He became the leader of a gang known as the ‘Winter Hill Gang’ that operated from the Boston suburb of Somerville, having initially been the enforcer of the gang leader, Howard Winter, in South Boston.

Whitey served in the US Air Force for a period and created many excuses to be missing without permission. He was honourably discharged and after that became involved with a gang that undertook bank robberies as far away as Indiana. Whitey was sentenced to 20 years in prison when he was 26 years old at Boston Federal District Court for participating in three bank robberies and served his sentence in Atlanta. He would have been eligible for parole after 7 years but was caught with contraband in the prison which the authorities said would have facilitated an escape by other prisoners. Instead of being released on parole Whitey was sent to Alcatraz – the maximum security prison in San Francisco Bay. He was eventually released after serving a total of 11 years.

Another brother, John P. Bulger, had been a 32-year veteran staff member of the Boston Court system but he lost his annual $65,000 pension as a former court clerk magistrate in the Boston Juvenile Court system in September 2003 when he was convicted of perjury and the obstruction of justice after lying under oath about the whereabouts of Whitey. It now transpires that Whitey had been living at the same Santa Monica apartment since 1999. John, now aged 73, retired from the Courts in 2001 and was the only one of the the three Bulger brothers to serve a jail sentence since 1965.

The case against John Bulger was that on November 26, 1996 he testified before a federal grand jury that he had no knowledge of any safe deposit boxes belonging to his brother Whitey. But John knew of, and had made, a 1996-rent payment for, a safe deposit box in Clearwater, Florida that Whitey opened in 1992. The false testimony was provided before a federal grand jury investigation James J. Bulger, Stephen J. “The Rifleman Flemmi, (sentenced to ten years in prison in 2001 for extortion and to life in 2004 after pleading guilty in a plea bargain to 10 murders) and others for potential money laundering offenses relating to their organized crime activities.

John Bulger committed his second act of perjury and of obstruction of justice by falsely testifying on January 22, 1998 before another federal grand jury that he had received no direct or indirect communication whatsoever from Whitey since Whitey had become a fugitive in January 1995. In fact, Whitey had called an acquaintance of John’s around August 1996 and the acquaintance reported his conversations with Whitey to John. If that case proceeded to the trial the US Government would have offered the testimony of Kevin J. Weeks who was present in the summer of 1996 when John talked on the telephone to Whitey. The false testimony was provided before a federal grand jury investigating Catherine P. Greig and others for potential offenses relating to harbouring and assisting fugitive Whitey.

Bill Bulger considered that many of the allegations attributed to Whitey was designed to be a political attack on himself and his view was that he loved his brother and prayed that he would not continue to damage himself.

The FBI have spent millions of dollars hunting Whitey Bulger around the world in order to charge him with 19 murders from the 1970’s to the mid 1980’s, drug dealing, money laundering, extortion. When he was arrested this week police discovered arms and large amounts of cash in his Santa Monica apartment. The Whitey Bulger universe was governed by fear and controlled through brutality.

A $2 million reward was offered for information leading to Bulger’s capture but the public were warned that he has a violent temper and was known to carry a knife at all times. He was known to have been interested in history and to visit libraries and historic sites. He was also known to disguise his appearance but he travelled extensively in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe.

The arrest of Bulger follows the broadcasting of a 30-second public service announcement in several states designed to draw the public’s attention to Catherine Greig, Bulger’s 60-year old companion who absconded with him in 1995. Aimed at a female audience, the announcement focused on Greig’s appearance, personality and social habits. It highlighted that she maybe possibly seen in beauty parlours or doctor’s offices. The announcement prompted hundreds of leads one of which hit the bull’s-eye. There was a reward of $100,000 for information leading to her capture. She had not been charged with anything implicating her directly with Bulger’s crimes but in 1997 was charged with harbouring a fugitive.

The current Ten Most Wanted list is currently reduced to 8 with vacancies arising as a consequence of Bulger’s capture and Bin Laden’s death.

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