BOSTON — One of the FBI’s most wanted for more than a decade, James “Whitey” Bulger, went on trial last week and on Monday, a former hit man who is seen as the prosecution’s star witness is scheduled to testify.
The 83-year-old Bulger, who authorities say led the Winter Hill Gang, fled Boston in 1994. He was captured in 2011 in Santa Monica, where he had been living with longtime girlfriend Catherine Elizabeth Greig, 60, who was also arrested.
Prosecutor Brian Kelly told the jury that Bulger was a “hands-on killer” who was responsible for “murder and mayhem” in Boston for almost 30 years.
In his opening statement Wednesday, Kelly offered chilling details of some of the 19 killings Bulger is charged in, saying the mob boss strangled two 26-year-old women and asked one man if he wanted a bullet in the head after an attempt to strangle the man with a rope failed.
Kelly also said Bulger was a longtime FBI informant who provided information on the rival New England Mafia.
Bulger’s lawyer, Jay W. Carney Jr., acknowledged in his opening statement that Bulger made millions through illegal drugs, gambling and loan-sharking. But Carney told jurors that three ex-mobsters who pinned murders on Bulger could not be believed. The defense also maintains that Bulger was never an FBI informant. Instead, they say, Bulger paid FBI agents and other law enforcement to tip off him and his gang when they were being investigated or about to be indicted.
When the trial resumes Monday, former hit man John Martorano is expected to testify. Martorano admitted killing 20 people and served 12 years in prison. Bulger’s lawyers, however, have attacked his credibility and the “extraordinary” deal he got from prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation.
Last week, jurors heard testimony from a retired state police colonel on Thursday who said Bulger and his gang demanded payment from bookmakers, drug dealers and others who wanted to do business in the area they controlled. Failure to pay up could mean being run out of business, being beaten or being killed, retired state police Col. Thomas Foley told the jury.
On Friday, two bookies testified Friday that they were forced to pay monthly “rent” or “tribute” payments to Bulger and his gang if they wanted to stay in business.
One bookie, James Katz, said if bookies did not pay Bulger’s gang, they could “wind up in the hospital.” Under questioning by Carney, Katz acknowledged making most of his payments to Bulger’s partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, and said he only met Bulger once.
The other bookie, Richard O’Brien, said he had been affiliated with the New England Mafia but decided to operate independently after members of the mob were arrested. He said Bulger told him during a meeting, “If you want to be in business, you’re with us.”
The usually stoic Bulger chuckled after O’Brien testified that Bulger once threatened a man who wanted to go into business for himself by saying he had another business besides bookmaking: “Killing [expletives] like you.”
The defense is due to cross-examine O’Brien on Monday.