The first defense witness called in the racketeering trial of James “Whitey” Bulger testified Monday that he repeatedly urged the FBI to drop the gangster as an informant in the early 1980s but was overruled by higher-ups who believed he was providing valuable information against the Mafia.
Robert Fitzpatrick, who was second in command of the FBI’s Boston office, said he knew from his first meeting with Bulger in 1981 that his value was overrated. In testimony that kicked off the defense’s bid to undermine the contention Bulger was an informant,Fitzpatrick described an unsettling visit at the gangster’s Quincy condominium.
“I put my hand out to shake his hand, and he didn’t take it,” said Fitzpatrick. Wearing a Boston baseball cap, tight-fitting shirt, and sunglasses, Bulger ushered him and FBI supervisor John Morris into his darkened kitchen and stood with his arms folded across his chest.
Fitzpatrick, now 73, testified in US District Court in Boston that he asked Bulger, “What are you doing for us?”
He said Bulger, who was wearing an Alcatraz belt buckle, talked about the years he spent in the notorious San Francisco prison for bank robbery and bragged he was the head of the Winter Hill Gang.
Fitzpatrick said on the way to the meeting, Morris “was telling me what a great guy [Bulger] was . . . how helpful he was. and I didn’t get that impression at all.”
Fitzpatrick testified that he was startled when agent John J. Connolly Jr., who recruited Bulger as an informant in 1975, suddenly appeared because he was not supposed to be at the meeting.
“At one point, [Bulger] said he was not an informant,” said Fitzpatrick. “He said he was not giving me any information. He said he was not paid; most informants were paid. He paid others.”
Fitzpatrick said he did not challenge Bulger’s assertion or ask him to elaborate on whom he paid.
The recollection goes to the center of the defense’s assertion, made in opening statements last month, that Connolly fabricated Bulger’s informant file to cover up the fact that the agent was taking payoffs from the gangster. Yet, Fitzpatrick later indicated in his testimony that he had no reason to distrust reports indicating Bulger did provide information on associates to the FBI.
“A lot of informants don’t really want to be labeled an informant,” said Fitzpatrick.
Bulger, 83, is charged in a sweeping federal racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s, extortion, money laundering, and possession of illegal weapons. Prosecutors have portrayed him as a longtime informant who killed several people after Connolly warned him they were cooperating against him.
Connolly is serving a 40-year prison term for his role in a 1982 gangland slaying in Florida that prosecutors contend Bulger orchestrated. Morris, who admitted pocketing $7,000 in bribes from Bulger, was granted immunity from prosecution and testified against Bulger.
The defense has set out to put the government on trial for protecting Bulger and his partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, from prosecution for decades while crediting them with providing information that helped decimate the New England Mafia.
Fitzpatrick said he recommended dropping Bulger as an informant in 1981, but was overruled by FBI headquarters after Connolly and Morris insisted Bulger and Flemmi had helped the FBI plant a bug in the North End headquarters of Mafia underboss Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo months earlier and were invaluable in the ongoing investigation.
In 1982, the FBI’s use of Bulger and Flemmi as informants caused major dissension in the bureau when Winter Hill Gang associate Edward “Brian” Halloran began cooperating, Fitzpatrick said. Halloran had implicated Bulger and Flemmi in the 1981 slaying of Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler, owner of World Jai Alai.
Fitzpatrick said he complained to William Weld, the US attorney, in May 1982, that Jeremiah O’Sullivan, a federal prosecutor who headed the New England Organized Crime Strike Force, refused to admit Halloran to the witness protection program despite warnings from other informants that his life was in danger because word of his cooperation had been leaked.
The warnings went unheeded, Fitzpatrick said, and two days later Halloran was gunned down on the South Boston Waterfront, along with Michael Donahue, who was giving him a ride home. Bulger is charged with the slayings. Two weeks after the killings, Fitzpatrick said, he complained during a meeting at FBI headquarters that Bulger and Flemmi should be closed as informants because they were possible murder suspects, but high-ranking officials seemed “ambivalent.”
Fitzpatrick said later he was told by John Glover, the FBI’s assistant director, to “shut up and not report it” when he accused James Greenleaf, then head of the FBI’s Boston office, of leaking grand jury information. Fitzpatrick said the FBI later retaliated against him, by trumping up charges that he filed false reports. He said he was demoted to line agent and resigned in 1986 because he felt “they were out to get me.”
During aggressive cross-
examination, Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly attacked Fitzpatrick’s credibility, accusing him of making up stories and taking credit for the accomplishments of others. Fitzpatrick said he recovered the rifle used in the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., but Kelly read FBI reports crediting Memphis police officers with recovering the rifle, then turning it over to the FBI hours later.
“I was the first agent on the scene,” said Fitzpatrick, insisting he was with the officers when the rifle was recovered and transported it for testing.
Kelly also grilled Fitzpatrick about passages in a book he co-wrote last year, “Betrayal: Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent Who Fought to Bring Him Down.”
The prosecutor noted that Fitzpatrick had retired years before Bulger was targeted in the 1990s investigation that led to the current charges.
Fitzpatrick is expected to return to the stand Tuesday.Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Miton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@
globe.com. Follow then on Twitter @shelleymurph and@miltonvalencia.