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Funeral held for Stephen Rakes

A funeral was held for Stephen Rakes Thursday at Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston. Rakes had hoped to testify against James “Whitey” Bulger at his racketeering trial.

Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe

A funeral was held for Stephen Rakes Thursday at Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston. Rakes had hoped to testify against James “Whitey” Bulger at his racketeering trial.

Stephen “Stippo” Rakes’s funeral was brief, attended by about 100 people in the huge Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston, only 2 miles from the courthouse where his run-in with James “Whitey” Bulger was a topic of testimony Thursday.

The coffin of the South Boston native, who died under suspicious circumstances earlier this month, was carried into the church at 10 a.m. Thursday, followed by a procession of family members.

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Rakes had long claimed that Bulger illegally took ownership of his South Boston liquor store and at the time of his funeral an alleged money laundering scheme involving the liquor store was being described in Bulger’s trial in federal court.

Kevin O’Neil, known as Bulger’s “money man,” testified Thursday that in 1984 he helped Bulger and Kevin Weeks conduct inventory when they took over Rotary Liquors from Rakes. O’Neil said he later bought the liquor store from Bulger and put him on the payroll.

Many mourners walked from their homes to the funeral, including former Boston mayor Ray Flynn.

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There was no printed program and no comments by relatives or close friends during the funeral, other than the reading of a brief poem.

Rakes’s grandsons carried the bread and wine for Communion to the altar.

After the service, Flynn spoke briefly to reporters, saying he was simply paying his respects to a man from the neighborhood.

“We respect the dead and pray for them,” Flynn said.

“It’s confusing; I don’t know that much about it,” Flynn said, when asked about his thoughts on the circumstances surrounding Rakes’s death.

“He’s someone that I often saw walking around, and I’m here today, without any politics, to just pay my respects,” Flynn said.

Rakes, a 59-year-old retired MBTA employee who lived in Quincy, had waited decades to testify against Bulger. His name was on the government’s witness list.

Rakes was a regular presence at US District Court in Boston during Bulger’s trial and granted numerous interviews. On July 16, he told friends that prosecutors had informed him that he would not be called to testify.

He was found dead a day later, off a popular walking trail in Lincoln.

An autopsy found no trauma to the body, but authorities believe that he may have died elsewhere and that his body was dumped.

Authorities are awaiting toxicology results, which generally take several weeks to complete.

A procession of 21 vehicles followed the black hearse after it left the church.

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.
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