The trial of James “Whitey” Bulger is finally underway, unearthing all sorts of sordid details about this murderous criminal’s life.
Over the next few weeks we will be deluged with stories of the ugly inner workings of Boston’s organized crime rings, and indeed we are already hearing them as the first criminal witness, John Martorano, testifies.
Martorano, who murdered 20 people, was one of Bulger’s close associates. He has provided unique insight into the murders, intimidation and shakedowns that characterized Bulger’s life.
But the most revealing information will pertain to our government’s involvement in, and collusion with, Bulger’s crime ring and other organized crime.
Bulger’s life is nearly over, the story of his crimes has been told to a greater extent, and he and his associates are no longer a factor in the world of organized crime. What is not so clear is the extent of the relationship between the government and Bulger.
Bulger should finally receive the punishment he deserves. But the FBI and Department of Justice must also be held fully accountable for their actions.
One “rogue” FBI agent, John Connolly, has already been convicted and imprisoned for aiding Bulger and providing information on confidential informants, at least one of whom was murdered by Bulger’s gang. Connolly has long been held up by the government as the only agent who colluded with Bulger.
But Connolly insists that he was not alone, that there was a far wider conspiracy involving the government. “The Justice Department is going to do everything within its power to try to make sure the full story never comes out,” Connolly said in a 2012 interview with Newsweek.
His opinion echoes that of Thomas Foley, a former Massachusetts state police colonel who tried unsuccessfully to take down Bulger, stymied in large part by the FBI’s tight relations with Bulger.
Foley told Newsweek last year that the Department of Justice has “no appetite for self examination” in the Bulger case. “They just want it all to go away,” he said.
Indeed, after his testimony at Bulger’s trial last week, Foley again expressed frustration with how the FBI’s infiltration of Bulger’s gang impacted his investigation.
His frustrations seemed to confirm what he said a year ago — that the government wants its dirty dealings with Bulger to be forgotten.
Bulger’s connections weren’t limited to the FBI. He also had friends and protectors among state and local police.
And major questions remain to be answered about the relationship between Bulger and his younger brother, William Bulger, the former Senate president and UMass president.
Bulger has always denied using his political power to shield his brother from prosecution or punish his brother’s enemies.
But bad things happened to people who crossed the Bulgers.
In 1987, State Trooper William Johnson stopped Whitey Bulger passing through Logan Airport with bags believed to be stuffed with cash. A week later, the trooper was demoted to patrolling an airport garage. In 1998, Johnson shot himself to death and took to his grave the belief that William Bulger was behind the demotion that wrecked his career.
For the sake of the public, let’s hope these deals — and the government officials who made them — won’t get swept under the rug.
A dim light has already been shown on the system of payouts and benefits provided to organized crime members by our government. More of that needs to be exposed.
In Martorano’s case, the government provided $6,000 in “canteen funds” during his stay in prison to make life a little easier for him, and a $20,000 reward when he left the prison gates.
He spent only eight years in jail for his 20 murders thanks to a deal he worked out with the government.
And of course, this convicted mobster also collects Social Security for his many years of “employment.”
This trial is a window into a secret world where the lines between criminals and the “good guys” are not always clear. That world desperately needs some light shined into it.