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Agreement gives Greig little leeway, legal observers say

Greig set to enter plea Wednesday in federal court

Prosecutors say that Catherine Greig helped James “Whitey’’ Bulger elude capture for 16 years. She faces charges of conspiring to harbor a fugitive, conspiracy to commit identity fraud, and identity fraud.

After 16 years on the lam and nine months in a legal spotlight, James “Whitey’’ Bulger’s girlfriend Catherine Greig will now lay her fate before a US District Court judge, and legal observers say prosecutors have given her little leeway as she admits to helping Bulger remain a fugitive for more than a dozen years.

With prosecutors offering Greig little in terms of a deal for pleading guilty, the legal observers say, US District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock will have the ultimate say in what kind of sentence she deserves. A hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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“What I’m seeing is the government is not looking to do her any favors,’’ said former US attorney Donald K. Stern, who held that post when Bulger was first indicted on racketeering charges in 1995 and when Greig was first charged in 1997.

“She harbored a fugitive of 19 murders, and she assisted him in eluding capture for 16 years,’’ Stern said.

According to court records, prosecutors have not settled on any recommended sentence, and they reserved the right to argue against any sentence that falls below calculated guidelines. Prosecutors did agree that Greig’s decision to plead guilty should lower the calculations, which is typical when any defendant accepts responsibility.

According to a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed not to seek the forfeiture of property she owns in Quincy and South Boston. Yet Greig also agreed that she will not try to make any money by telling of her time on the lam with Bulger, and she will forfeit any money that is proved to have been derived from her crimes.

It was not clear Tuesday whether Greig will also be sentenced Wednesday. Sentencing hearings are typically set for another date, but it is not unheard of for a judge to sentence a defendant the same day the defendant pleads guilty.

Greig is expected to plead guilty to an initial charge of conspiring to harbor a fugitive and to two additional charges of conspiracy to commit identity fraud and identity fraud.

She faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for each charge, but family members of Bulger’s victims have been cautioned by prosecutors that she could be sentenced to 32 months under sentencing guidelines.

Kevin Reddington, her lawyer, has not responded to requests for comment.

Greig, 60, and Bulger, 82, were captured June 22 in Santa Monica, Calif.

Bulger, a longtime FBI informant, fled Boston just before his January 1995 indictment, after he was warned by his FBI handler of his pending arrest. He was later charged with 19 murders, was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List, and became the target of a worldwide manhunt. Greig fled with him in 1995, after he returned to Boston following an initial several weeks on the lam.

Family members of several of Bulger’s victims were critical of prosecutors for reaching a deal with Greig under certain charges and refusing to levy more charges against her, for instance, by trying to hold her responsible for the more than $820,000 in cash and 30 loaded guns hidden inside the walls of their Santa Monica apartment.

The family members argued that the additional charges would not only help persuade Greig to testify against Bulger, but they would also toughen the possible sentence for a woman who is admitting to helping him to elude authorities.

“I understand she was on the run with him and helping him for 16 years; that burns a lot of people like me,’’ Tom Donahue told reporters Monday after meeting with prosecutors including US attorney Carmen M. Ortiz for more than an hour.

Donahue’s father, Michael, was an innocent bystander who was allegedly gunned down by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride home to the gangster’s intended target.

Anthony M. Cardinale, who represented one family member of an alleged Bulger victim in a civil proceeding last June, said that prosecutors have seemingly agreed to the appropriate charges. He questioned, for instance, whether the gun charges could sustain a legal challenge, and whether the federal government would have jurisdiction on what could be a state crime of possessing guns.

“This office, particularly these prosecutors, would not have ignored anything that was available,’’ said Cardinale, who also represented former New England Mafia boss Francis “Cadillac Frank’’ Salemme in a case that helped expose Bulger’s corrupt ties with the FBI.

“They’re not making any agreement to anything other than what the law requires,’’ Cardinale said. “Whatever charges they have against her, she is pleading guilty to them, and whatever happens, happens.’’

Stern said that, despite family members’ concerns that Greig will not be forced to testify, “I don’t see anything in the documents filed in which the government is precluded from forcing her to testify under certain circumstances.’’

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.
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