Whitey Bulger Racketeering Trial Begins

The federal racketeering and murder trial of Boston’s James “Whitey” Bulger, now underway, promises to shed light on the complicated relationship between the legendary gangster and the FBI. 

“I think Bulger is a groundbreaking, unique case with issues never seen before in my lifetime,’’ said Bruce Cutler, a criminal defense lawyer who represented John Gotti, head of the Gambino crime family in New York.

Bulger, now 83, was arrested two years ago in California. He has pleaded not guilty to 32 criminal counts, including not just racketeering and murder, but money laundering, extortion and gun charges. Bulger was the leader of the Winter Hill Gang, a predominantly Irish-American group based in New England.

After he fled Boston in 1994 he spent 14 years on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, rising to No. 2 behind only Osama bin Laden.

The Bulger case is a blot on the FBI’s history. In 1975 Bulger was recruited as an informant in the federal crime agency’s fight against the Mafia, but he manipulated the relationship, taking control of a few Boston agents who informed him whenever agents were on his trail.

He fled Boston in 1994 following a tip from FBI handler Agent John Connolly concerning an impending federal racketeering indictment. Connolly was arrested in 2002 for obstruction of justice and racketeering for his dealings with Bulger and other mobsters and is serving a 50-year sentence. More details of how Bulger used agents are expected to unfold as the three-phase trial unfolds over the next few months.

“It can also be said that the FBI is on trial,” said Dick Lehr, author of Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal, in an interview with the Associated Press. “It’s kind of a mega case,” said Lehr. “It’s not a single crime.”

During opening statements Wednesday, prosecutor Brian Kelly told the U.S. District Court jury that Bulger was a ”hands-on killer” responsible for “murder and mayhem” in the Boston-area for almost three decades. Bulger’s lawyer, Jay W. Carney Jr., acknowledged that Bulger made millions through illegal drugs, gambling, and loan sharking. Carney insists Bulger was never an FBI informant, but rather paid FBI agents to tip him off to problems. He also told the jury that the ex-mobsters who have pinned murders on Bulger couldn’t be believed.