A federal appeals court panel on Tuesday grilled the lawyer for Catherine Greig over her culpability in helping her boyfriend James “Whitey” Bulger stay on the run for 16 years, with panel members seeming to attach her to the notorious gangster’s ability to evade capture for so long.
Greig, the judges noted, had already admitted to living with Bulger in Santa Monica, Calif., organizing his finances, paying his rent, and buying his medications — often with fake identifications for the two of them.
“This isn’t mere overnight sheltering of someone who ran in,” said retired US Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who often sits on the panel for the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
Senior Circuit Judge Norman H. Stahl added, “Her conduct was essential for his ability to evade arrest or be found.”
Greig’s lawyer, Dana Curhan, had asked the three-member panel in Boston on Tuesday to recalculate her 8-year sentence for harboring Bulger during most of his 16-year run, saying Greig’s trial judge erred in calculating her sentence, and that she was wrongly punished for his legacy of crimes.
But he seemed to have found little sympathy from the panel judges.
“This went on for 16 years, and without her activity he would have had to have been out in the public eye,” Stahl said, noting that Greig used cash that had been stashed in walls in their apartment.
“She knew money was hidden in the apartment; she used it,” he said. “She used the money she had to know was ill-gotten funds, and that’s what she lived on.”
The panel took the matter under advisement, and could issue a ruling in the coming months.
Greig pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to harbor a fugitive and conspiracy to commit identity fraud. US District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock sentenced her to eight years, a sentence far more severe than she anticipated, based in part on what she had done to help Bulger remain one of America’s Most Wanted.
The judge also considered the input of family members of Bulger’s alleged victims, who argued that she should be punished for helping him remain free for so long.
Curhan told the appeals court panel, however, that Woodlock erred in calculating into Greig’s sentence the work she had done to help Bulger remain a fugitive. He said the judge could add the enhancements to the sentence only if Greig had done something illegal to aid them beyond the typical definition of harboring, such as rob a bank. He said Greig should have faced only 27 to 33 months under proper guidelines, not the 7 to 9 year range Woodlock calculated.
Curhan said Woodlock spoke appropriately when he said last year that “there was no other harboring case like this.”
But First US Attorney Jack Pirozzolo had argued that Greig’s work to help Bulger by obtaining his medication and paying the rent raised her level of culpability.
“That was considered something that went beyond the mere harboring of a fugitive,” he said. “That assists him in remaining concealed from law enforcement.”
Curhan had also argued in court filings that the families of Bulger’s alleged victims had no standing to provide input in her case, though prosecutors argued that she did. The issue was not discussed during brief oral arguments Tuesday.
Outside the courthouse, Curhan told reporters that any criminal defendant faces an uphill battle in seeking relief from the appeals court, but that he is confident that Woodlock calculated the sentence incorrectly. He said Greig has not spoken to Bulger, and that, “She’s going about her life, keeping a low profile, and doing her time.”
Greig’s twin sister, Margaret McCusker, would say only, “I’m hoping for the best.”
But some of the family members of Bulger’s alleged victims said that the hearing was a waste, and that Woodlock calculated the appropriate sentence. They had called for an even stronger punishment.
“She was an enabler,” said Patricia Donahue outside the courthouse, whose husband Michael was an innocent bystander who was giving a man a ride home when he was allegedly shot by Bulger, in 1982. “She made it easy for him to get his medications, and to go in the streets, and see those different people. She was his identity, so that made it a lot easier for him to stay out there all that time.”