Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bulger cohort unloads on stand

Bulger cohort unloads on stand
Says Connolly accepted $235k in gang payoffs
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff September 23, 2008

MIAMI - The gangster and the FBI agent met clandestinely for years at the homes of FBI agents and shared secrets late at night while strolling along beaches in Quincy, Dorchester, and South Boston.

But yesterday, longtime FBI informant Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi faced retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. in a Florida courtroom as the ex-gangster testified that Connolly pocketed $235,000 in payoffs, compromised investigations, and leaked information that led to several murders.

After taking a $25,000 kickback that he knew came from drug proceeds in 1983, Flemmi told jurors yesterday, Connolly had joked, "Hey, I'm one of the gang."

The once-decorated agent, who is already serving 10 years in prison for racketeering and is now on trial on murder charges, raised his eyebrows in apparent disbelief as he stared at the slightly built, 74-year-old man he had used as an informant against the New England Mafia.

Jurors, who heard from another hitman last week, John Martorano, barely flinched as Flemmi told them that he and fellow informant James "Whitey" Bulger generally paid Connolly twice a year: $5,000 when he was going on vacation and $10,000 for Christmas - with an additional kickback now and then when they made a big score.

The agent had a close relationship with Bulger and the two vacationed together in Acapulco and Provincetown, Flemmi said.

He said Bulger reduced Connolly's payoffs at one point out of concern the agent was too flamboyant, buying real estate on Cape Cod and dressing in fancy suits.

"One time we gave him money, he went and bought a boat," Flemmi said. "Jim Bulger was upset about that. He had to sell the boat. I mean, FBI agents weren't making much money back in those days. He was the best-dressed agent in the office and people would start looking at him. That was a con cern."

Flemmi said he and Bulger paid Connolly and four other agents from an expense fund, which came from criminal profits. One of those agents, John Morris, received immunity from prosecution and will testify later. The other three, John Newton, Nicholas Gianturco, and Michael Buckley, have never been charged and all have denied receiving money from the gangsters.

Connolly, 68, who retired from the FBI in 1990 after 22 years, is accused of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the 1982 slaying of Boston business consultant John B. Callahan. He is accused of warning Flemmi and Bulger that the FBI planned to question Callahan and that he would probably implicate the gangsters in an earlier slaying.

Bulger, who fled shortly before his 1995 racketeering indictment, remains on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.

Flemmi, dressed in prison-issued khaki pants and a short-sleeved shirt, occasionally chewed his bottom lip while testifying and sipped on orange juice. Connolly frequently frowned at Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders under a deal that spared him the death penalty.

He has pleaded guilty to killing eight men and two women between 1974 and 1985 but admitted yesterday that during Boston's 1960s gang wars he shot Charlestown gang leader Edward "Punchy" McLaughlin. He also said that in addition to those killings, he was involved in 10 other slayings - either participating or cleaning up afterward.

For the first time, Flemmi publicly described how he and Bulger formed the partnership that helped them become two of the most powerful gangsters in Boston. After teaming up with the Somerville-based Winter Hill Gang in the mid-'70s, Flemmi said, he and Bulger "kind of hit it off together because we both identified with each other's activities."

Both were physical fitness buffs who did not drink or smoke, he said.

"The rest of the guys were kind of party-type guys," Flemmi said. "We liked to party also, we weren't square - but we weren't extreme."

He said Bulger initially told the gang in 1975 that Connolly, who grew up in the same South Boston housing project as the Bulger family, was leaking information to him, Flemmi said.

Later that year, Flemmi said, Bulger introduced him to Connolly and asked him to provide information about local Mafia leaders.

Flemmi said he had easy access to local Mafia leaders and had declined several offers to join the mob. "I didn't trust them," he testified.

He added that Bulger, who could not join the Mafia because he was not Italian, did not trust the leaders either, and apparently the feeling was mutual.

"They didn't particularly like him because he was kind of a violent guy," Flemmi said. "He was his own person."

Flemmi said Connolly warned the pair in 1976 that Revere bookmaker Richard Castucci was an informant who had told the FBI where two fugitive Winter Hill Gang members were hiding in New York. Earlier, hitman-turned-government witness Martorano testified that he killed Castucci as a result of the tip.

In 1978, according to Flemmi, Connolly warned him and Bulger that most of the Winter Hill Gang was going to be indicted on federal race-fixing charges because one of the men involved in the scheme, Anthony Ciulla, was cooperating.

However, Flemmi said Connolly helped persuade a prosecutor to remove him and Bulger from the indictment, but insisted, "We had to give our word we wouldn't kill Tony Ciulla."

Flemmi said Connolly also told him and Bulger in 1982 that Edward "Brian" Halloran was an FBI informant who had implicated them in another slaying, prompting Bulger to kill Halloran.

After testifying for just under four hours, with breaks for recess and lunch, Flemmi said he was having difficulty focusing on the questions. At the prosecution's request, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stanford Blake ushered the jury from the room and asked Flemmi, "Are you getting tired, or you didn't understand the question?"

"Both," said Flemmi, adding that he had not had much sleep since being moved from prison to an undisclosed jail on Wednesday. "How's the food there?" the judge asked.

"If I fed it to my dog, he'd bite me," Flemmi said.

The judge promptly halted the trial for the day. Flemmi will resume on the stand today.