A federal judge refused Tuesday to release a lien on the South Boston home of Catherine Greig’s twin sister, saying Greig has an interest in the property that could be seized when she is sentenced next month for harboring gangster James “Whitey’’ Bulger.
Margaret McCusker, Greig’s 61-year-old sister, had argued that the lien on the home, in which she has a majority interest, has disrupted her finances. She has no access to her home equity line, for instance, in what her lawyer called a “banking nightmare.’’
But US District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock said Tuesday that it is clear that Greig has some interest in the property. Until that question is resolved, he said, there is no immediate need to release the lien, because McCusker has no plans to sell the property. He said the lien will be resolved once he sentences Greig on June 12.
“I’m not sure the timing is right,’’ Woodlock said.
The judge also questioned recent transactions on the property deeds. Last July, Greig sold any interest she had on the property on East Fourth Street to McCusker for $1, and the judge questioned whether the sisters were trying to circumvent Greig’s creditors and obligations - including fines the court could impose when she is sentenced. McCusker did not record any gift exemptions on her tax records.
When McCusker’s attorney, Richard Lane, pressed for a hearing to show McCusker’s claim to the property, Woodlock warned that such a hearing could show “whether or not there has been fraud committed in those transactions. You’ve asked for a hearing, you’ll get it.’’
Lane withdrew his request for a hearing, but denied any fraud, saying later that, “It was done on the record. We weren’t concealing or hiding anything.’’
Lane said the transfer of interests Greig might have on the property - valued at more than $617,000 - was to clear up the deed records, and to reflect Greig and McCusker’s mother’s wish that the family assets go to McCusker.
He also said the $1 price tag was to account for the tens of thousands of dollars McCusker has put into the property over the last three decades, particularly over the years that Greig had been on the run with Bulger.
McCusker, 61, appeared irked at times during the hearing, particularly when prosecutors questioned her need to tap into a bank account listed under her and Greig’s name.
“What do you think, I’m going to take the money?’’ she hypothetically asked later to reporters.
Woodlock did agree to McCusker’s request to tap into the bank account, which has more than $100,000, to pay bills on Greig’s Quincy home. That home, which McCusker has maintained for more than 16 years, could also be targeted for seizure in Greig’s sentencing.
Greig, who has been held without bail since she and Bulger were arrested last June in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run, faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each of three charges she faces: conspiracy to harbor a fugitive, conspiracy to commit identity fraud, and identity fraud.
She pleaded guilty to helping Bulger, now 82, remain a fugitive even while he was on the FBI’s America’s Most Wanted list, by helping him use fake identification to do things like go to a doctor and obtain prescription medications.
Her lawyer, Kevin R. Reddington, has argued that her crime was falling in love with Bulger.
Bulger is slated to go to trial in November in a high-profile case alleging he took part in 19 homicides.