By EDMUND MAHONY and LYNNE TUOHY
September 16, 1999
- A federal judge on Wednesday sharply criticized FBI agents for
taking potentially criminal measures - perhaps even inciting a
murder - in an extraordinary, decades-long effort to protect the
local FBI division's two most notorious informants.
In one instance cited by U.S. District Court
Judge Mark L. Wolf in a withering, 661-page decision, FBI agents,
aware of the implications of what they were doing, provided information
to informants James "Whitey" Bulger and Steven "The
Rifleman" Flemmi which, the judge concluded, probably led
to the slaying of another gangster who was informing on them.
The wide-ranging decision, which touched
on 30 years of sensational crimes in and around Boston, was technically
a ruling on pre-trial motions filed by Flemmi and other gangsters
in a 1995 racketeering case. But Wolf went to great lengths to
condemn certain FBI agents in Boston for entering into a tainted
relationship with the two informants that crippled investigations
around the country into crimes ranging from mob assassinations
to the criminal penetration of the jai alai industry.
He said that, for years, FBI agents repeatedly
lied and stonewalled other investigators who were trying to build
cases against Bulger and Flemmi, who were suspects in numerous
murders. In some cases, he said, certain agents provided the two
with information they used to thwart multi-million dollar investigations.
The reason: Wolf said the FBI was as interested in protecting
individual careers and shielding the bureau from embarrassment
as it was in protecting the flow of sensitive criminal intelligence
Bulgar and Flemmi were providing. "From the FBI's perspective, exposure
of its agents' conduct had the foreseeable potential to reveal
an extraordinary effort to protect Bulger and Flemmi that involved
serious impropriety, if not illegality," Wolf wrote.
Wolf's decision characterizes Bulger and
Flemmi as valuable confidential mob informants since the 1960s.
But he wrote that the two were known to be violent felons and
probably murderers. Under U.S. Department of Justice guidelines,
the two should have been dropped as informants when they became
murder suspects. "The evidence in this case indicates
that the Attorney General's Guidelines were routinely ignored
with regard to Top Echelon informants generally," Wolf wrote.
"As the government acknowledges, it is clear that they were
regularly disregarded concerning Bulger and Flemmi."
In the ruling, Wolf denied a motion by Flemmi
- at least for the short term - that he should be spared prosecution
on the racketeering indictment because he was such a valued, Top Echelon FBI informant that FBI agents had
promised to protect him from prosecution for crimes short of murder.
Wolf concluded that Flemmi was promised protection,
but not outright immunity from prosecution by the FBI. As a result,
the judge threw out some of the evidence against Flemmi, but stopped
short of an outright dismissal of the indictment. He said he could
dismiss the rest of the evidence after additional hearings.
In what can be called the closest thing to
a victory for prosecutors in Wolf's decision, he rejected a motion
by one of Flemmi's co-defendants that a secretly made FBI recording
of a Mafia initiation ceremony in 1989 be suppressed as evidence.
Wolf's decision peels back a layer of law
enforcement secrecy from a case that has frustrated police agencies
across the country for two decades: an investigation of murder
and corruption in the jai alai industry.
The judge writes that Bulger and Flemmi have
been the two principal suspects in three jai alai-related murders,
including the 1981 assassination of Roger Wheeler Sr., the owner
of World Jai Alai. Wheeler's company operated frontons in Hartford
Wolf said agents in Boston, obsessed with
protecting their prized informants, withheld information from
colleagues in the FBI, as well as police in Oklahoma and Florida
who from the start suspected Bulger and Flemmi in the jai alai
Wolf's decision has been anticipated for
months in New England legal circles. It is expected to provide
more ammunition for FBI critics who have been lining up since
disclosures were made earlier this summer that the bureau may
have tried to cover up evidence that it fired incendiary weapons
at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
Bulger, Flemmi and three other gangsters
were indicted on racketeering charges in 1995. The prosecution
has been tied up in complicated pre-trial maneuverings since then,
including nearly a year of hearings in 1998 where every week seemed
to deliver another bombshell disclosure about FBI misbehavior.
Two other defendants in the case - Patriarca
crime family boss Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme and
Patriarca soldier Robert DeLuca - have motions pending and could
benefit from Wolf's conclusions that Flemmi's value as an informant
was tainted by his criminal behavior.
The final defendent under indictment in the
case, John Martorano, has been placed in protective custody after
agreeing to become a prosecution witness against Bulger and Flemmi.
Martorano is said to be so infuriated that his erstwhile criminal
partners were informing on him for years that he decided to retaliate.
Martorano last week signed an agreement with
prosecutors in which he admits committing 20 murders; many he
says, on the instructions of Bulger and Flemmi. Even if Wolf dismisses
more evidence against Flemmi, Martorano's information could put
Flemmi in prison for life.
Defense lawyers reacted gleefully to Wolf's
ruling at a daylong round of press conferences. "You couldn't be human and not be disgusted
at the level of treachery Flemmi and Bulger engaged in,"
said John Mitchell of Manhattan, one of lawyers representing Salemme.
Of the FBI, he said, "You don't get in bed with known murderers
to make gambling cases. Forget Waco. Forget Ruby Ridge. It's all
right here. We have an agency that's an outrage."
Boston lawyer Anthony M. Cardinale, who also
represents Salemme, predicted Wolf's ruling would bolster Salemme's
argument that the charges against him should be dismissed on grounds
of outrageous government conduct. "This is much more than just a little
reprimand," Cardinale said.
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern
issued a terse statement applauding the ruling's denial - at least
temporarily - of the motions to dismiss and lamented the need
for additional hearings.
Wolf referred extensively to the jai alai
investigation, and his findings illustrate how FBI agents, whose
careers flourished in direct proportion to the information they
were getting from Bulger and Flemmi, fudged reports, withheld
information or otherwise lied to protect the two informants.
Some of the reports written by FBI agents
about Flemmi's expoits as an informant were patently transparent,
including one written in 1966 by H. Paul Rico, the agent who first
recruited Flemmi to help the bureau's fight against the Italian
In the report, Rico describes questioning
Flemmi about the murder of one Cornelius Hughes. Flemmi had complained
that Hughes wanted to kill him.
Flemmi "was asked if he had any idea
of who committed the murder, and he advised that he had an excellent
idea who committed the murder but it would be better if he did
not say anything about the murder."
The jai alai murders took place at a time
when Rico had retired from the FBI and had been hired as a top
executive at World Jai Alai. During the same period, Bulger and
Flemmi were providing stunning information in a Mafia prosecution
that was the top priority of the FBI's Boston division. Their
Winter Hill gang was suspected by police in Connecticut and three
other states of skimming money from World Jai Alai.
Wheeler was killed after he began investigating
such skimming. Also killed was John B. Callahan, a Winter Hill
associate who was once president of World Jai Alai.
Wolf's most startling disclosures about jai
alai concern the murder of Edward Brian Halloran, a disaffected
Winter Hill leg-breaker who was trying to become an FBI informant
himself and join the federal witness protection program.
Not knowing that Bulger and Flemmi were already
prized informants, he approached the FBI in Boston and implicated
them in Wheeler's murder.
Wolf said John Morris, then a supervisor
of the Boston division's organized crime squad, informed John
Connolly, an agent in the FBI's Boston office, of Halloran's charges.
"Morris expected that Connolly would
tell Bulger and Flemmi," Wolf wrote. "Connolly told
Bulger and Flemmi about Halloran's cooperation and claims."
In early May 1982, the FBI denied Halloran's
request to join the witness protection program and turned him
out on the street. On May 11, he was gunned down outside a South
Boston restaurant. "The next time that Morris asked Connolly
to tip Flemmi off to an investigation," Wolf wrote, "he
added that he `did not want another Halloran' - meaning another
Wolf said that, during the same period, Bulger
and Flemmi passed a message to Morris that they "really liked
him" and hoped that Morris would let them know if he ever
Morris took them up on the offer, the judge
wrote. Several weeks after Halloran's death, the married Morris
was attending a training session in Georgia and wanted his girlfriend,
his secretary at the FBI, to join him. He also wanted Bulger and
Flemmi to pay for her plane ticket. Wolf said Connolly delivered $1,000 provided
by the two informants to the secretary at the FBI's offices.
It was the first of $7,000 in payments Morris
took from Bulger and Flemmi, according to evidence.
Boston's U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf
is known for the ample time he takes to consider his decisions,
as well as the length of what he writes. But he set a new book-length
benchmark with a 661-page ruling issued Wednesday.
Wolf's decision on a motion to dismiss caharges
in a racketeering case that has exposed corrupt alliances between
mob informants and FBI is probably a contender for the longest
court ruling ever.
But it is hard to find anybody who keeps
track of that sort of thing. "The Guinness Book of World
Records" has the longest trial and the longest will, but
not the longest court decision.
A federal judge in Utah attracted attention
15 years ago with a 489-page ruling in an atomic-testing fallout
case. It was reported to be one of the longest at that time by
the National Law Journal.
Wolf beat the Utah judge by almost 200 pages.
Connectcut had a state record-setter last
year with a 524-page decision by Superior Court Judge Kevin Tiemey
in Wendt vs. Wendt, a well-publicized divorce case involving the
chairman of Stamford-based GE Capital Corp.
Wolf blew Tiemey away by almost 150 pages.
The U.S. Supreme Court considers some weighty
issues, but none of its decisions come close. The longest was
a 1972 ruling that invalidated the death penalty.
Wolf latest opinion was almost three times longer than that.
©1999 The Hartford Courant