After six weeks of testimony about gruesome murders, remorseless gangsters, and corrupt FBI agents, prosecutors are poised to rest their racketeering case against James “Whitey” Bulger Friday, ending with evidence of his capture two years ago in a California apartment stocked with guns and cash.
Just before dismissing the 12 jurors and six alternates for the day Thursday, US District Judge Denise J. Casper told them, “The government will rest sometime tomorrow.”
Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly said the government plans to call its last two witnesses Friday, completing the presentation of its case after calling 63 witnesses over 30 days of testimony in US District Court in Boston.
Bulger, who was arrested in Santa Monica, Calif., in June 2011 after 16 years on the run, is charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders; extorting drug dealers, businessmen, and bookmakers; money laundering; and stockpiling guns.
The defense, which will begin calling witnesses Monday, currently has about 16 people on its list, down from more than 80.
Bulger’s lawyers said the 83-year-old vowed to take the stand shortly before the trial began in June, but have declined to comment on that recently, raising speculation about whether Bulger has changed his mind.
The judge barred the defense from calling some proposed witnesses, ruling Thursday that they were not relevant to the case.
In testimony Thursday, a Quincy developer startled the courtroom by pounding his fist on the witness stand. He quickly explained he was demonstrating what Bulger did while threatening to kill him in 1986 if he did not pay him $200,000.
The developer, Richard Buccheri, said he had given a friend advice on a dispute with a neighbor who was selling his house and had mismarked the boundary line between their properties with a fence.
Buccheri said he did not know that Bulger’s protégé, Kevin Weeks, was the person buying the house until Bulger summoned him to a meeting in South Boston, slammed his fist on a table, and shouted that Weeks “is my surrogate son.”
Staring with disdain at Bulger, seated just a few feet away, Buccheri said excitedly, “He took a shotgun and sticks it in my mouth . . . . He hits me in the shoulder and says, ‘I’m not going to kill you now.’ ’’
Buccheri said Bulger put down the shotgun, then pointed a .45 caliber gun at his head and demanded $200.
“I said, ‘$200?’” Buccheri said. Bulger snapped back a correction: “$200,000.”
Bulger warned, “If you don’t pay me, I’m going to kill you and your family,” Buccheri said.
Buccheri said he mortgaged some of his property and made out a $200,000 cashier’s check to Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. Later, Buccheri said, Flemmi told him he had given the money to Bulger and “Jim says you’re a friend now.”
Buccheri admitted he lied before a federal grand jury in 1995 when he denied he was extorted, but said, “I was in fear of my life.”
Jurors also heard testimony Thursday from Kevin O’Neil, a builder and former Bulger associate, who described real estate transactions that led to some of the money laundering that Bulger is charged with.
Bulger nodded at O’Neil, who responded with a wink.
O’Neil, 64, who owned the now-defunct Triple O’s bar in South Boston with his brothers, said Bulger frequented the place and asked to be put on the payroll. O’Neil began paying him even though he never worked there.
When asked why he did not refuse to pay, O’Neil said, “He wasn’t a guy to fool with.”
O’Neil said he occasionally collected “rent” from a bookmaker, who gave him envelopes stuffed with cash that he delivered to Bulger.
O’Neil said that in 1986, he and a partner purchased a South Boston liquor store from Bulger, Weeks, and Flemmi, who allegedly had extorted it two years earlier from a local couple.
O’Neil said he soon discovered that Bulger had only relinquished the liquor business, not the building where it operated.
“We thought we were getting the building, too,” O’Neil told jurors.
He said they paid $300,000 for the business and were required to make monthly rent payments to Bulger and weekly payroll checks of $500 each to Bulger, Flemmi, and Weeks, for no-show jobs.
“It would be stupid not to,” O’Neil said in his gravelly voice when the prosecutor asked him why he paid them.
Several years later, O’Neil said Bulger finally sold him and his partner the building, but insisted they obtain a $400,000 mortgage from him, instead of a bank, because “he just didn’t want to see someone else make the money instead of him.”
O’Neil said he paid Bulger monthly mortgage payments of $4,672.96 a month from 1990 to 1997, and identified the checks for jurors.
Assistant US Attorney Zachary Hafer asked O’Neil why he kept paying Bulger after he fled in January 1995, shortly before he was indicted on racketeering charges.
“I believed he was coming back,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil pleaded guilty to racketeering, extortion, and money laundering in 1999 and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison after agreeing to cooperate with authorities.