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Bulger lawyer wonders why FBI agents should be believed

Roger Wheeler’s body was found in a car at an Oklahoma country club in 1981.

US Attorney's Office

Roger Wheeler’s body was found in a car at an Oklahoma country club in 1981.

A Justice Department agent testified Wednesday that a corrupt FBI agent fabricated some reports in James “Whitey” Bulger’s informant file to protect the gangster from prosecution, but he rejected defense arguments that the entire file was falsified.

In his fourth day on the stand, James Marra, an agent with the inspector general’s office, said Bulger’s disgraced FBI handler, John J. Connolly Jr., “fabricated some reports, but I have no reason to believe that Mr. Connolly fabricated all of the reports that were in that file, nor do I have information that other agents fabricated reports.”

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Marra said Connolly had often talked of Bulger as “one of the most valuable informants in the battle against the LCN,” referring to La Cosa Nostra.

But Marra faced aggressive cross-examination at Bulger’s racketeering trial in US District Court in Boston as defense attorney Henry Brennan focused intensely on Bulger’s corrupt relationship with the FBI. Brennan questioned why any of the agents who authored the informant reports should be believed, given that many of them were later implicated in wrongdoing.

Bulger, 83, who was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., two years ago after 16 years on the run, is charged in the sweeping racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s, extortion, money laundering, and illegally possessing guns.

The defense contends that Bulger was never an informant and that Connolly opened a file on him to cover up the fact that he was meeting regularly with the South Boston gangster to pocket payoffs and leak information that protected his sprawling criminal enterprise.

Brennan suggested that Connolly, who was lauded for his stable of top echelon informants, credited Bulger with information he gleaned from other informants.

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Connolly, who listed Bulger as his informant from 1975 to 1990 and authored most of his informant reports, is serving a 40-year prison term for a murder that Bulger has been accused of participating in. And Connolly’s former supervisor, John Morris, who is slated to take the stand Thursday, admitted taking $7,000 in bribes from Bulger and was granted immunity for his crimes.

Still, many more agents accused of bribery or obstruction of justice have never been investigated.

“You learned Mr. Bulger was paying a number of people in the Boston FBI?” Brennan asked.

Marra agreed that was true, telling jurors that Bulger’s longtime partner Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, also an informant, struck a plea deal with the government in 2004 and accused a number of agents of taking gifts or payoffs and leaking information to Flemmi and Bulger.

Marra said he did not investigate those agents because the statute of limitations for such crimes had expired. However, there is no statute of limitations for murder, and Marra was part of the team that prosecuted Connolly, leading to his 2008 conviction in Miami for the 1982 slaying in Florida of Boston businessman John Callahan.

During questioning by the prosecution, Marra testified that one agent, Lawrence Sarhatt, who interviewed Bulger while he was an informant, was never implicated in wrongdoing. Sarhatt, then the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, questioned Bulger for hours in 1980 after the State Police accused the FBI of tipping off Bulger to a State Police investigation.

“He is fully aware that the [Massachusetts State Police] is aware of his informant role with the FBI,” Sarhatt wrote after the meeting. “However, he is not concerned with his personal safety because no one would dare believe that he is an informant. It would be too incredible. Notwithstanding this notoriety, he indicated to me that he wants to continue the relationship with the FBI.”

After Wednesday’s court session, Shawn Donahue, whose father, Michael, was allegedly killed by Bulger in 1982, said he was disgusted that allegations of corruption by other agents were not investigated.

“Dozens of people have been murdered, and they won’t investigate because of statute of limitations?” Donahue said. “That’s what I find disgusting. I want to know everything.”

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com or on Twitter @shelleymurph.

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