After 30 days of testimony, federal prosecutors rested their racketeering case against James “Whitey” Bulger on Friday, portraying him as a menacing crime boss and manipulative FBI informant who got away with murder for decades and raked in millions from drug dealing and extortion.
The government’s 63 witnesses offered jurors a startling view into a world where Bulger seemed omnipotent as he allegedly paid bribes to FBI agents, killed informants cooperating against him, shoved machine guns into the faces of drug dealers and businessmen, chained and interrogated men before shooting them in the head, and strangled women.
In some cases, according to his former associates, Bulger took naps after his killings, while they were left to bury the bodies and clean up his mess.
“They showed what a vicious type of murderous animal he was,” said Tom Donahue, whose father, Michael, was allegedly gunned down by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride home to the intended target, an FBI informant who was cooperating against him.
On Monday, Bulger’s lawyers will begin calling defense witnesses as they try to build upon a theme they have been pressing for the past six weeks: that Bulger was not an informant, that he did not kill the two young women who are among his 19 alleged victims, that even though he raked in millions from cocaine and marijuana dealing, he refused to sell heroin or angel dust. He was, they suggest, a gangster with principles.
Bulger, 83, has yet to decide whether he will take the stand, one of his lawyers, J.W. Carney Jr. told the judge Friday.
The defense plans to call 15 witnesses, beginning Monday morning, and the case could go to the jury by the end of the week.
Carney acknowledged the complexity of the case outside the courthouse Friday, telling reporters, “I didn’t realize or appreciate what an amazing cast of characters would be called during this trial. For me, professionally, it’s been fascinating.”
Bulger is charged in a sweeping federal racketeering indictment that alleges he participated in 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as extortion, money laundering, and stockpiled weapons while overseeing a criminal organization that rivaled the Mafia.
The last prosecution witness called to the stand Friday was an FBI agent who was part of the team that captured Bulger on June 22, 2011, in Santa Monica, Calif., ending an international manhunt for the fugitive who had been on the run for more than 16 years.
FBI special agent Scott Garriola, assigned to the fugitive squad in the bureau’s Los Angeles office, said he showed the manager of the Princess Eugenia complex at 1012 Third St. mugshots of Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, after a tipster said they were living in a rent-controlled apartment as retirees, Charlie and Carol Gasko.
When the manager confirmed he was “100 percent’’ sure it was them, Garriola lured Bulger to the building’s garage by having the manager call and tell him his storage locker had been broken into.
As Bulger emerged from the garage elevator, he was surrounded by FBI agents and Los Angeles police.
“We asked him to get down on his knees,” Garriola said. “He swore at us a few times, told us he was not going to get down on the ground, there was grease on the ground.”
Bulger eventually complied and was handcuffed. After initially insisting he was Charles Gasko, according to Garriola, the gangster said, “You know who I am; I’m Whitey Bulger.”
Garriola said Bulger’s demeanor changed when the agent asked if he needed to call a SWAT team to get Greig out of the apartment. He said Bulger offered to tell her to surrender.
He signed his name on a consent form allowing them to search the apartment, saying, “This is the first time I’ve signed this name in a long time.”
The agent said Bulger showed agents where he had stashed 30 guns, more than $822,000 in cash, knives, and ammunition — much of it hidden inside holes he had cut into the walls and covered with plaster. Bulger said Greig had never handled any of the guns, and he hoped his cooperation would benefit her. She was sentenced to eight years in prison last year for helping him evade capture.
Jurors stared in awe as Garriola piled clear plastic bags stuffed with the cash on a table in front of US District Judge Denise Casper.
He identified each of the 30 guns — including a machine gun, a Ruger, and an M16 — and said most were loaded and all were functional when seized from Bulger’s apartment.
Garriola said he asked Bulger if he was planning a shootout. “He paused and then he told me, ‘No, because a stray bullet may hit some-
As the case now shifts to the defense, Boston lawyer Anthony Cardinale said Bulger is almost guaranteed a conviction since his lawyers conceded during opening statements that he was a drug dealer.
“The only thing they apparently wanted to litigate is whether he was an informant, which is not even a crime in the case, and whether he was involved in the murder of the two women,” Cardinale said. “In what can only be called a reputation defense, they are trying to defend his reputation, and that’s not a legal defense.”
But Boston lawyer Harvey Silverglate said Bulger’s lawyers showed jurors that Bulger had a corrupt relationship with the Justice Department and the FBI, which enabled him to commit crimes.
“One of the most interesting themes is that the defense is defending somebody who was obviously engaged in God-awful conduct, but the prosecutors have the same problem,” said Silverglate, referring to the corrupt FBI agents who took money from Bulger and a federal prosecutor who shielded him from prosecution decades ago.
Silverglate said the trial is a disappointment because the judge refused to allow jurors to hear Bulger’s contention that he had been granted immunity from prosecution by a former top-ranking prosecutor, who is now dead.
“The real question is how far did the federal government go in encouraging and enabling [Bulger’s] conduct,” Silverglate said. “We don’t have an answer because the judge wouldn’t let us hear that evidence.”
Michael Donahue, the oldest son of alleged Bulger victim Michael Donahue, said the government’s case left no doubt in his mind that Bulger was an informant.
“He’s not like Capone or Dillinger,” Donahue said. “He will be one of the most notorious American gangsters, but will be remembered for being a rat.”