A retired State Police colonel testified Thursday that FBI agents constantly sabotaged his efforts to target James “Whitey” Bulger, forcing investigators to rely on a hit man and other unsavory characters to build a case against the gangster and expose his corrupt relationship with the bureau.
Thomas J. Foley, who, more than two decades ago, launched the investigation that led to the sweeping federal racketeering and murder indictment Bulger now faces, said that the South Boston gangster had a “sordid” relationship with the FBI that “was preventing law enforcement from doing their investigations.”
But during the second day of testimony in Bulger’s long-
anticipated trial in US District Court, the defense team tried to use Foley’s testimony to argue that the FBI was so corrupt in its handling of the notorious South Boston gangster that its claim that he was an informant should not be believed.
The defense also grilled Foley about whether the prosecution team let hit man-turned-government witness John Martorano refuse to testify against his friends, as long as he cooperated against Bulger.
Jurors were shown an arsenal of 14 machine guns and revolvers Foley displayed as he sat in the witness box several feet from Bulger, 83, who stared straight ahead most of the day, never giving Foley a glance.
Bulger watched a much younger version of himself on a television screen perched in front of him, when prosecutors played a 1980 State Police surveillance video of him fraternizing with organized crime figures outside a garage on Lancaster Street in Boston.
“The FBI had a history of lying to you and undermining your investigations,” Bulger’s lawyer, Henry Brennan, said to Foley during an aggressive cross-examination.
So, why, Brennan asked, would Foley believe the FBI when it says Bulger was an informant?
Foley replied that State Police had seen Bulger’s informant file, as well as the informant file of Bulger’s longtime partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi.
Brennan countered that the file was filled with reports from their former handler, retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr., who is serving a 40-year prison term for his role in a 1982 slaying that prosecutors allege was orchestrated by Bulger and his associates.
“So if that person wrote something that was a lie, you’d be relying on a lie, wouldn’t you?” said Brennan.
“Yes,” Foley said. Later, however, he said other agents had filed informant reports regarding Bulger.
A book Foley coauthored last year, “Most Wanted,” which details his long pursuit of Bulger, provided fodder for the defense.
Flipping through pages he had tabbed, Brennan challenged Foley to defend what he had written while focusing heavily on the government’s handling of Martorano, who served only 12 years in prison for committing 20 murders and is slated to be a key witness against Bulger.
Brennan grilled Foley about an anecdote in the book describing how he took Martorano to his own dentist when the killer complained of a toothache.
Martorano was “having very bad pain,” said Foley, and needed treatment “so we could move on with the interrogation.”
When asked if Martorano had refused to testify against his brother, James, former Winter Hill gang leader Howard T. Winter, and South Boston associate Patrick Nee, Foley said Martorano “preferred not to.”
Foley said Martorano had provided information that Winter and Nee were involved in killings, but authorities did not have enough to prosecute them in federal court.
He said the information was turned over to state authorities.
Foley said his priority was targeting Bulger and allegations of FBI corruption, and he did not launch an investigation into Martorano’s allegations against Nee or Winter.
“We were working on this case, which was taxing us for years,” Foley said. “This case would have never been completed, and the reality of it is this was the most serious crime.”
Bulger is charged with 32 counts in a racketeering indictment that alleges he participated in 19 murders and extorted drug dealers, bookmakers, loan sharks, and businessmen while running a criminal organization from 1972 to 2000. He is also charged with money laundering and stockpiling weapons.
The arsenal of weapons displayed in court Thursday had been given to investigators by Kevin Weeks, Bulger’s former associate. Weeks said they were part of a secret stash belonging to Bulger.
Prosecutors showed jurors photographs of dozens more weapons, masks, ammunition, and a police badge that Foley testified had been recovered from a house in South Boston, a Florida storage facility, and a hole in the yard of a Somerville house.
As he left the courthouse, Foley told reporters that investigators did not want to make a deal with Martorano, but if they had not, “Bulger and Flemmi and the rest of the guys would be on the streets in a few years” and police corruption would not have been exposed.
“We had to get to the root of this,” he said. “It was going on for decades, and it had to be uncovered.”Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@
globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.