By EDMUND MAHONY
December 23, 1999
- One of the FBI's former top organized-crime investigators was
arrested Wednesday on charges of conspiring to arrange payoffs
from two notorious gangsters while protecting them from arrest
and helping them extort real estate from a young South Boston
In a lengthy racketeering indictment,
retired FBI Special Agent John Connolly in effect was charged
with going to work for James "Whitey" Bulger and Steven
"The Rifleman" Flemmi - two informants he was supposed
to be handling for the FBI's Boston division.
Connolly, who was arrested
in his Lynnfield, Mass., home, pleaded innocent in federal court
to the five- count indictment and was set free on $200,000 bail.
Flemmi, currently jailed on related charges, and Bulger, a fugitive,
were also charged in the indictment unsealed Wednesday afternoon.
Barry Mawn, special agent in
charge of the FBI's Boston office, apologized for what he said
was Connolly's violation of the public trust. "I am certainly on the
one hand saddened, but on the other I'm angered," Mawn said.
But Connolly's lawyer, Robert
Hopedale, said the indictment was flimsy and an embarrassment
to the FBI and the Justice Department. "I'm telling you,
we'll take it apart," he said.
He said Connolly was being
blamed because he participated in FBI-sanctioned dealing with
mobsters that the agency now regrets.
"The government now seeks
a scapegoat and have decided that John Connolly is the best person
to play that role," he said.
Connelly retired in 1990 and
now works as director of security for Boston Edison.
For decades, Bulger and Flemmi
have been legendary figures in New England crime, imposing their
Winter Hill gang's stranglehold on the South Boston rackets. Since
the late 1990s, though, the FBI has conceded under court order
that the two were at the same time the Boston division's two most
productive confidential informants, delivering the evidence the
bureau needed to lock up top members of the Italian mafia.
But other law enforcement agencies
have long complained that Bulger and Flemmi had an uncanny ability
to learn in advance of any criminal investigations directed at
them. Detectives with various New England state police agencies
believed the two were using a small number of agents in the Boston
FBI office to eliminate their competition for the area rackets
and win protection from prosecution from other agencies.
Among the crimes Bulger and
Flemmi have long been suspected of - but repeatedly able to distance
themselves from - is the 1981 murder of former World Jai Alai
owner Roger Wheeler. After Wheeler's murder on an exclusive Tulsa,
Okla., golf course, two men believed to have had evidence about
the crime were violently killed themselves.
The indictment unsealed Wednesday,
based on work by a special federal investigative strike force,
seems to support the longstanding view that Bulger and Flemmi
had an unusually close relationship with the FBI. Connolly and
the two, one time informants are named in a five-count indictment
accusing them of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, obstruction
of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Flemmi is accused
alone in the fifth count of obstruction for passing classified
information from Connolly to Patriarca crime boss Francis "Cadillac
The indictment of Connolly,
a highly regarded, retired FBI agent, is an extraordinary event.
It could not be immediately determined
late Wednesday whether a retired FBI agent has ever been linked
to criminal activity he was formerly
assigned to investigate. Connolly has repeatedly insisted that
he has done nothing wrong.
Connolly was an FBI agent from
1968 until January 1990. Midway through his career he returned
from New York to his hometown of Boston where, as a youngster,
he had grown up with and befriended Bulger. Once back home as
an FBI agent, Connolly became a highly regarded member of the
Boston division's organized crime squad. Monday's indictment puts
him right in the middle of the people he was once assigned to
Specifically, the indictment
unsealed Wednesday charges:
During the 1980s, Connolly
helped Bulger and Flemmi pay $7,000 in cash in three payments,
as well as two cases of expensive wine, to former Boston FBI supervisor
John Morris. Morris was Connolly's boss on the organized crime
Morris admitted taking the
money and wine while testifying under a grant of immunity in 1998
as a witness in a related case in a Boston federal court.
Evidence was presented at that
hearing that Bulger and Flemmi had an odd social relationship
with a variety of federal agents, sometimes dining and exchanging
gifts with them. Morris is no longer with the FBI.
Connolly and the two informants
also are collectively accused of conspiracy and extortion in the
illegal takeover of a South Boston liquor store. There was evidence
at the related federal hearing that Bulger and Flemmi extorted
Stippo's Liquor Mart from a young couple in 1984. In the Stippo's
case, Connolly is also accused of conspiring to prevent other
FBI agents from investigating the extortion.
Connolly also is accused of
tipping Bulger and Flemmi to law enforcement investigations of
which they were targets. In 1988, according to the indictment,
Connolly told them an associate named Baharoian was the subject
of an FBI wiretap in Roxbury. He is accused of telling the two
in December 1994 that they and others were about to be indicted
for racketeering. Flemmi is accused of immediately passing that
information along to Salemme. The predicted indictment was in
fact returned on Jan 10, 1995.
As a result of the tip, Bulger
and Salemme became fugitives. Salemme was apprehended in Florida
in August 1995. Bulger remains at large.
Flemmi was arrested before
he could flee from the 1995 indictment. While sitting in jail
for months awaiting trial, he decided to mount a defense claiming
that he should be cleared off all charges because whatever he
was accused of doing, he did while working for the FBI as an informant.