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Bulger denied being an informant

Taped call cited in immunity hearing

James “Whitey” Bulger says he was given immunity on charges by the FBI because he was an informant, a claim being contested by prosecutors.

James “Whitey” Bulger says he was given immunity on charges by the FBI because he was an informant, a claim being contested by prosecutors.

Notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger insists he was never an FBI informant, but paid agents for information, according to a jailhouse telephone conversation with his brother last September that was recorded by authorities.

“I bought [expletive] information; I didn’t sell it,” Bulger, 83, said during the Sept. 11, 2012, call to his brother, John, from the Plymouth County Correctional Facility. “I never gave them [expletive] information. Nothin’. Nothin’.”

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The conversation was ­detailed by prosecutors in a memorandum filed late Wednesday in federal court in Boston, urging a judge to hold pretrial hearings to decide Bulger’s claim that he was granted immunity for all of his crimes, including murder.

Authorities routinely monitor inmates’ calls and mail.

Bulger says that a former federal prosecutor, who died in 2009, gave him a verbal promise of immunity decades ago that never expired. Bulger’s lawyers say he has a right to let a jury decide his immunity claim when he goes to trial in June in a sweeping racketeering case charging him with 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s.

Prosecutors argued in the memorandum that Bulger’s phone conversation with his brother is proof that he did not have immunity, because if he did, he would not have paid off FBI agents or have fled to avoid prosecution for so many years.

“I’m up to my [expletive] ears in it,” said Bulger, who has been reviewing evidence turned over to his defense team that ­includes his informant file, thick with reports from John J. Connolly Jr., then an FBI agent, crediting Bulger with tips about rivals in the Mafia and members of his own gang. Many of the files were made public in prior court proceedings.

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“I was accused. . . . I never, I didn’t know that [expletive] John Connolly wrote all those reports and the other guy – what they did is they wrote ­reports making themselves look like Whitey told us what — I never told them a [expletive] thing,” Bulger said during the call. “I bought [expletive] information; I didn’t sell it.”

Bulger’s contention is contradicted by FBI files that indicate he served as Connolly’s ­informant from 1975 to 1990.

Connolly, who grew up in the same South Boston housing project as Bulger, is serving a 40-year prison sentence for helping Bulger and fellow informant, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, orchestrate the slaying of a businessman in Florida in 1982.

Flemmi testified during Connolly’s murder trial in 2008 that Connolly was like a member of their gang and took $235,000 in payoffs from him and Bulger over two decades. Connolly also routinely provided them with information, includ­ing tips that prompted them to kill two FBI informants and a potential witness against them, Flemmi said.

Another former Bulger associate testified in prior trials that the gangster used to joke that “Christmas is for cops and kids,” as he went shopping for FBI agents each year and stuffed envelopes with cash for some 20 Boston police officers, each containing $100 to $500.

Connolly was convicted in 2002 of racketeering and obstruc­tion of justice for warning Bulger to flee shortly before the gangster was indicted on racketeering charges in 1995.

Bulger, who was a fixture on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list and had a $2 million reward on his head, was captured in June 2011, along with his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, living in a rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica, Calif., just a few blocks from the beach.

Bulger’s attorney, J.W. ­Carney Jr., could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He has argued in court that the late federal prosecutor, Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan, who led the New England Organized Crime Strike Force, promised Bulger immunity because of his relationship with the FBI.

Prosecutors countered Wednesday that there is no evidence to support Bulger’s immu­nity claim and called it “all the more absurd given Bulger’s denial of his informant status.”

Still prosecutors argued that Bulger’s immunity claim should be decided by the judge prior to trial because if he has immunity “he is entitled not to be tried at all, and potential jurors should not be made to sit through a three-month trial only to learn there is a legal impediment to defendant’s prosecution.”

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com.

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