A trial that many feared would never take place opened in a packed federal courtroom Wednesday when a prosecutor gave a cold-blooded recitation of what he called decades of terror inflicted on the city by its most notorious crime boss, James "Whitey" Bulger.
In a chilling opening statement in a case that has transfixed much of New England, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly described extortion victims chained to chairs, tortured, shot and buried in a cellar. He told jurors of strangled women and of teeth pulled to prevent identification of corpses.
He said Bulger and his gang shipped guns to Irish republicans and tons of cocaine and marijuana to Boston. He accused Bulger of extorting millions of dollars from drug dealers, as well as legitimate business owners, and laundering the money in real estate.
And for nearly 30 years, Kelly said, Bulger paid FBI agents and police officers tens of thousands of dollars to tip him to their investigations and identify their informants, some of whom he later executed.
"It is a case about organized crime, public corruption and all kinds of illegal activities," Kelly told the jury in a South Boston courtroom. "It is about a criminal enterprise … that ran amuck in the city of Boston for almost 30 years. And at the center of all this murder and mayhem is one man, the defendant, James Bulger."
One of those who Kelly said Bulger chained and tortured was Boston jewel thief Arthur "Bucky" Barrett. After forcing Barrett to turn over $40,000 in cash, Bulger quipped that Barrett was going "to lie down for a while in the cellar." Then Bulger shot Barrett in the head and pushed him down the cellar stairs before stretching out on a couch himself while his associates buried the body, Kelly told the jury.
"He was no ordinary leader," Kelly said. "He did the dirty work himself because he was a hands-on leader."
Bulger lawyer Jay Carney made it clear in his remarks to the jury that much of the crime boss's defense will be spent trying to discredit the government's three chief witnesses. They are close former Bulger associates who agreed to turn on him for leniency or other considerations.
Carney argued to the jury that the three — John Martorano, Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks — will say whatever they think the government wants in order to protect their cooperation agreements. Among other things, he said, they are accusing Bulger of their crimes.
Martorano was sentenced to 14 years in prison for 20 murders. Weeks, once a Bulger protégé, got a shorter sentence for less serious offenses. Flemmi, Bulger's long-time partner, got a life sentence, but was not exposed to possible death sentences for crimes in Florida and Oklahoma related to the gang's attempt to takeover World Jai Alai, once one of the country's largest pari-mutuel businesses.
Carney compared the federal prosecutors to chefs and the three witnesses to elaborately prepared meals.
'What [we] are going to try to do is show you what happens in the prosecutors' kitchen before the witness comes out," Carney said.
As his lawyer argued, Bulger — 83-year-old and with what little hair he has left turned white — sat behind him at the defense table, fiddling with a pair of eyeglasses. He wore a green, long-sleeved knit shirt and he has shaved the beard he wore during the 16 years he was one of the world's most sought-after fugitives.
He is being tried on a 32-count indictment that charges him with money laundering, racketeering, firearm-related charges and extortion. He is accused in the indictment of carrying out or being involved in 19 murders.
Carney made two significant concessions to the prosecution. He said Bulger made millions in the drug trade and paid off corrupt law enforcement officers.
"James Bulger was involved in criminal activities in Boston," Carney said. "He was involved in bookmaking. He also lent money to people at very high rates; it's called loan sharking. He was involved in drug dealing. And in order to protect his business he wanted to pay for information and received it from corrupt law enforcement officers."
But Carney said Bulger denies being an FBI informant. The FBI acknowledged that both Bulger and Flemmi were informants, providing information about their criminal rivals in the Italian mafia, after years of complaints by other law enforcement agencies that the pair appeared to be warned whenever they were investigated. The indictment against Bulger charges that he ran a violent racketeering conspiracy while working as a protected FBI informant.
Carney said John Connolly Jr., a corrupt former FBI agent on Bulger's payroll, created a phony FBI file labeling Bulger as an informant in an effort to justify his frequent meetings with Bulger. He said bribes from Bulger enabled Connelly to buy three homes and a "huge boat."
Connelly is serving a life sentence in a Florida prison. He was convicted, among other things, of identifying to Bulger informants who could implicate him in crimes. Bulger is accused of killing or arranging the deaths of some of those informants.
"The reasons Connolly created this file was just to cover up the fact that he was being seen meeting with Bulger so often," Carney said. "James Bulger never, ever, the evidence will show, was an informant for John Connolly. There are two reasons for this. No. 1, James Bulger is of Irish descent. Because of the troubles in Ireland, the Irish will never be informers. And secondly, Bulger was not close to La Cosa Nostra."
However, when opening arguments concluded and the government began presenting evidence, it played secretly made video recordings for the jury that showed Bulger meeting with a virtual who's who of Boston's Italian mafia.
Carney also denied that Bulger became one of the world's most hunted fugitives in 1995 after being tipped by Connolly to a pending indictment. He said Bulger learned of the pending indictment through a radio news report, which probably was based on information provided by publicity-conscious federal prosecutors.
"It was something as mundane as that," Carney said. "And he settled in California. Not hiding. Living openly in plain sight for 16 years while those FBI agents, I submit, pretended to look for him."
The FBI found Bulger two years ago, living in a neighborhood of retirees in Santa Monica, Calif.
Some of the argument to jurors Wednesday turned on crimes that date to 1972, conjuring images of a younger, brasher Bulger and of South Boston's past.
Bulger is accused of gunning down a local tough guy named Edward Brian Halloran just yards from the architecturally stunning brick and glass courthouse where he is on trial.
Halloran was shot along what was then South Boston's down-at-the-heels waterfront. He died after telling the FBI that Bulger's Winter Hill gang had shot to death World Jai Alai owner Roger Wheeler because Wheeler would not give them control of the pari-mutuel business. Bulger is accused of killing Wheeler.
The waterfront of 1983 is gone, razed and replaced by modern hotels, a bustling convention center and trendy, waterfront restaurants.
Bulger, one of the world's most sought-after fugitives until his capture two years ago, has lost what prosecutors argue was his control over local crime.
And the Irish American families whose insular neighborhood Bulger is accused of having terrorized are being pushed out of their three deckers by young professionals and condominiums.
Carney told the jury that Bulger denies involvement in four killings connected to his gang's alleged takeover of World Jai Alai, which in the early 1980s operated frontons in Connecticut and Florida. Bulger faces death sentences in Florida and Oklahoma in two of those killings.Copyright © 2015, CT Now