Closing one chapter in a decadeslong gangland epic, James “Whitey’’ Bulger’s girlfriend Catherine Greig pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that she helped him evade capture for more than 16 years as his constant companion on the run.
Dressed in a blue prison uniform, the soft-spoken, 60-year-old Greig burst into tears once during the hearing in US District Court, when the judge asked if she had ever received psychiatric treatment. She struggled to regain her composure, nodding that she had.
“It was after a suicide in my family,’’ said Greig, whose 26-year-old brother David shot himself in 1984.
But Greig betrayed no emotion when Steven Davis, whose 26-year-old sister Debra was allegedly strangled by Bulger in 1981, was allowed to speak after the judge considered whether the families of the 19 people Bulger allegedly killed have a legal right to be heard.
“Under that skin of hers she’s a monster,’’ Davis said. “We could have resolved this 16 years ago. She kept him in hiding all that time. . . . She doesn’t deserve a break.’’
Greig, a former dental hygienist who is being held at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I., pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to harbor a fugitive, conspiracy to commit identity fraud, and identity fraud.
Under a plea agreement, Greig is not required to testify against Bulger. However, US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock warned Greig that prosecutors could still call her to testify against Bulger. She could face contempt charges if she refuses.
“I understand,’’ Greig said.
The judge set sentencing for June 12. There is no agreed-upon sentence in the plea agreement.
The charges carry a maximum of 15 years in prison, but family members of some of the victims said prosecutors warned them Greig could face as little as 32 months under federal sentencing guidelines.
After the hearing, US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz told reporters that prosecutors have yet to decide what sentence they will urge the court to impose but promised it would be significant.
“There was no deal, certainly no sweetheart deal,’’ said Ortiz, responding to criticism from victims’ families. Those family members were upset that Greig had a struck a deal that did not require her to testify against Bulger or reveal details about hidden assets and whether anyone had helped them on the run.
“We did not compromise our ability to call her in the future as a witness in any proceeding,’’ Ortiz said.
“It’s important to be practical, to be fair, to be just, and we think that bringing this matter swiftly to a conviction is a fair and just result,’’ Ortiz said. “We can focus on an ongoing investigation now, we can focus on the trial of Mr. Bulger. The taxpayers don’t want to see a trial that’s not necessary to be had, and I think that this is a very appropriate conclusion.’’
Richard DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, said, “We’re delighted to be at this stage in the proceedings, and we very much look forward to Mr. Bulger’s trial in November.’’
Greig’s attorney, Kevin Reddington of Brockton, would not say what sentence he will recommend for Greig, saying only: “It’s a very fair judge, and I think he’ll consider all the issues.’’
The plea agreement prohibits Greig from profiting from her life with Bulger by selling her story for a book or movie. If she does, she must turn any profits over to the government.
Some family members of victims were upset that the plea agreement does not require Greig to forfeit her home on Hillcrest Road in Quincy. The property was purchased with $160,000 in cash in 1986, and prosecutors have questioned whether Bulger paid for it.
In court on Wednesday, Assistant US Attorney Jack Pirozzolo said prosecutors could not legally seek the Quincy property as part of the case against Greig but told the judge they may try to seize it as part of the case against Bulger.
Bulger, who is being held at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility, is scheduled to stand trial on Nov. 5. The longtime FBI informant fled just before his January 1995 federal racketeering indictment after being warned by a retired FBI agent. Greig, a South Boston native who dated Bulger for years, joined him on the run weeks later.
The fugitive couple was captured by the FBI on June 22 in Santa Monica, Calif., where they had lived in the same rent-controlled apartment since at least 1998, according to neighbors and the FBI. They went by the names Charles and Carol Gasko.
Detailing the government’s case, prosecutor Pirozzolo described in court how Greig took 10 different identities - some fictitious and at least two of real people - while posing as Bulger’s wife. While in Santa Monica, she did the shopping, paid the rent and utility bills, picked up prescriptions, and met with doctors and dentists.
She kept a couple of business cards that Bulger created for her in her bedroom, with the Social Security numbers of their true owners scribbled on the back, according to the prosecutor.
“Is that what happened?’’ the judge asked Greig.
“That’s what happened,’’ Greig said.
As she was handcuffed behind her back and led out of the courtroom, Greig cast her eyes toward the spectator section for the first time during the 70-minute hearing and nodded to her twin sister and a friend seated in the front row.
Afterward, Patricia Donahue, whose husband Michael was allegedly gunned down by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride to a man who was the intended target, said she was not impressed by Greig’s tears.
“I don’t think she’s a monster’’ Donahue said. “She made bad choices. But where were her tears when I had tears? She wasn’t concerned about my tears. She wasn’t concerned about my having to raise three boys alone after Whitey Bulger killed my husband.’’