In their first encounter in 18 years, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi greeted James “Whitey” Bulger with an expletive after taking the stand in US District Court and describing his former partner as an FBI informant who gave information to law enforcement “hundreds of times’’ during their shared criminal careers.
Flemmi is a key witness in Bulger’s racketeering trial, and on Thursday prosecutors got straight to the crux of his testimony: his partnership with Bulger and their relationship with the FBI.
“Was Mr. Bulger an informant?” Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak asked.
Flemmi said he was.
“What was the nature of your relationship?” Wyshak asked.
“Strictly criminal,” Flemmi responded.
Flemmi was called to testify at the end of the trial day and was on the stand for less than 15 minutes. But before he left and after the jury had left the courtroom, he stood in the witness stand with his hands on his hips and hissed “mother [expletive]” at Bulger.
The 83-year-old Bulger responded, although it was unclear what he said.
The two men, who allegedly mapped out extortion and murders together, continued to glare at each other.
“Really?” Flemmi said, before being led from the courtroom.
Though his testimony Thursday was brief, jurors got their first look at perhaps the most anticipated witness, the man who was by Bulger’s side as they allegedly committed murder and mayhem for decades.
Bulger is charged in a sweeping federal racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders , extortion, money laundering, and stockpiling guns in the 1970s and 1980s. Prosecutors say he got away with his crimes for so long because he was protected by corrupt FBI handlers. Bulger has said that the allegations he most wants to refute are that he was an informant and that he killed two women, and Flemmi is expected to provide testimony on both of those issues.
During his 15 minutes on the stand, Flemmi said he first met Bulger in 1969. They met again in 1974, he said, when he returned from Canada after fleeing attempted murder charges.
“I met him up in the Winter Hill section up in Somerville,” Flemmi said.
For the next 20 years, he said, they committed crimes as partners, spending almost every day together, with the exception of vacations, though sometimes they vacationed together, too.
Leaning back in his chair, dressed in a prison-issued dark khaki shirt and jacket, Flemmi went on to describe his own work as an FBI informant, beginning in the 1960s.
“It was a quid pro quo relationship with the FBI,” he said. “They were giving me information; I was giving them information. There was a [gang] war going on at the time.”
Flemmi testified that Bulger introduced him to FBI agents Dennis Condon and John J. Connolly Jr. Flemmi said it was “at the behest of the FBI.”
About a year later, Flemmi said, he started to provide information to the agents. So did Bulger, he said.
“I was giving him information, and he was giving it to the FBI,” Flemmi said.
He said he was with Bulger when he gave their handlers information, “numerous, numerous times, hundreds of times” during their 20 years committing crimes together.
Mostly, he said, they met with Connolly. The pair mainly provided information about the Mafia, which was the FBI’s focus at the time, but they also provided information about people from South Boston, Flemmi said.
“Who did most of the talking?” Wyshak asked.
“James Bulger,” Flemmi responded.
Flemmi testified that he never met Connolly without Bulger. But, he said, Bulger would sometimes meet Connolly on his own. Bulger and Connolly vacationed together, Flemmi said, and they would talk on the phone.
“Can you describe Mr. Bulger’s personality?” Wyshak asked.
Flemmi said it was overbearing. Forceful.
“More forceful than you?” Wyshak asked.
“Yes,” Flemmi responded.
Wyshak named the 10 people Flemmi has admitted killing. Bulger is accused of being involved in those killings.
Flemmi is expected to testify about those slayings when he returns to the stand on Friday.
Earlier Thursday, a former marijuana dealer who said Bulger extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from him at gunpoint said he never felt protected by Bulger, as the gangster’s lawyer suggested, only threatened. William David Lindholm said he made payments to Bulger until his arrest on drug charges in 1990.
Bulger’s lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., suggested that Bulger was providing protection in exchange for the payments, but Lindholm denied it.
“He told you he wanted to join under the umbrella of protection, right?” Carney said.
“No, I think he wanted us under the umbrella of extortion,” Lindholm responded. “He wasn’t protecting us from anything. The only people he was protecting us from was him.”