After days of sitting meekly at his federal racketeering trial, James “Whitey” Bulger erupted in anger Thursday as an FBI supervisor he had once plied with cash bribes and cases of wine told jurors that the gangster had given information in a case involving his associates.
“You’re a (expletive) liar,’’ Bulger, 83, snarled as he glared at his longtime nemesis, John Morris, who seemed nervous and uncomfortable at times as he sat in the witness stand just a few feet away.
Bulger’s outburst escaped the attention of most of the people in the courtroom, including the judge. It was only after jurors left for lunch that one of the prosecutors angrily revealed that Bulger had sworn at Morris and urged the judge to admonish him to “keep his little remarks to himself when the witness is testifying.”
“I know he spent his whole life trying to intimidate people,” said Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly. “But he should not be doing that here in federal court in the midst of trial.”
US District Judge Denise J. Casper told Bulger he was “well-served” by his lawyers and “they are to speak for you in this courtroom…Do you understand that, sir?”
“Yes, sir,” said Bulger, who remained quiet the rest of the day, but continued to stare at Morris.
Bulger is charged in the sweeping racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s, dozens of extortions, money laundering, and stockpiling guns.
The rare display of emotion by Bulger, who has barely glanced at most witnesses, came on the 12th day of testimony at his trial as he faced Morris for the first time since learning he was one of the Boston Globe’s sources for a 1988 Spotlight series that revealed Bulger was an FBI informant.
Morris, now 67 and testifying under a grant of immunity, admitted that he took bribes totaling $7,000, cases of wine, and other gifts from Bulger and his partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, and met them for social dinners, including once when Bulger’s politician brother, William, made a brief appearance. He admitted leaking information to the gangsters and their FBI handler that likely led to several murders.
But it was Morris’s testimony about Bulger informing on a Revere loanshark victim that hit a nerve with Bulger, who insists he was never an informant.
Morris, who worked in the FBI’s Boston office in the 1970s and 1980s and supervised its organized crime squad for six years, said he became friends with agent John J. Connolly Jr., who introduced him to his informants, Bulger and Flemmi. Soon Morris was hosting dinners at his Lexington home for the pair.
Bulger and Flemmi gave the FBI information about Mafia leaders, Charlestown drug dealers, and other gangsters, Morris said.
He described a dinner at Flemmi’s parents’ house in South Boston that was interrupted when Bulger’s brother, William, dropped by.
“He just looked very uncomfortable,” said Morris, testifying that William Bulger, then president of the Massachusetts Senate, didn’t look at the agents or talk to them and left after watching a television show.
In the early 1980s, Morris said Connolly called him to the garage at the FBI’s office, handed him a case of wine from Bulger and Flemmi and told him he had to accept it or, “These guys will think you don’t trust them.”
After Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler was murdered in 1981, Morris said he used “bad judgment” by telling Connolly that Winter Hill gang associate Edward “Brian” Halloran was cooperating with the FBI and had implicated Bulger and Flemmi in the slaying.
When Halloran was shot to death in 1982, along with Michael Donahue, who was giving Halloran a ride home, Morris said he let Connolly file a false report claiming that Bulger and Flemmi didn’t know Halloran was cooperating.
The following month, Morris said he asked Connolly to get $1,000 from Bulger and Flemmi to buy an airline ticket for Morris’s girlfriend so she could join him at a conference in Georgia.
When Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak asked Morris why he did that, Morris said Connolly had told him, “These guys really like you and if there’s anything you want or need, just ask.”
By then, Morris said, “I knew that I was clearly compromised.” In 1984, he took another case of wine with $1,000 tucked in the bottom from Connolly, understanding it was a gift from Bulger and Flemmi.
During a later dinner, Morris said Bulger handed him an envelope with $5,000 saying, “This is to help you out.”
Morris admitted warning Bulger and Flemmi to avoid a Roxbury bookmaker whose telephone was tapped, telling them, “I don’t want another Halloran.”
Morris said he confirmed for the Boston Globe Spotlight Team that Bulger was an informant because “the only way I thought these informants would be closed is if their identities were compromised.”
Choking back tears, Morris added he also spoke to the Globe “so what happened to me wouldn’t happen to another agent.”
Morris was suspended for two weeks for talking to the Globe but later was promoted to assisted special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office.
Bulger, who was captured in Santa Monica, Calif. two years ago after 16 years on the run, called Morris in 1995, demanding that he get the Globe to retract its report, Morris said. Later, Morris suffered a major heart attack. He retired from the FBI that year, and now works as a wine consultant and volunteers at a soup kitchen and does other charitable work, he said.
During cross examination, Morris admitted to a history of lying. He admitted that he was so eager to coerce a potential witness into cooperating in the 1970s that he planted a fake bomb underneath his car, to instill fear. The trick did not work.
Jurors also heard from Paul McGonagle, the son of alleged Bulger victim Paul “Paulie” McGonagle.
Now 53, he told jurors that he was 14 when his father disappeared in 1974.
A year later, Bulger told him they “took care of the guys who got my father,” McGonagle said.
His father’s remains were unearthed in 2000 from a grave at the edge of Tenean Beach in Dorchester.Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com.