With the federal trial of James “Whitey” Bulger now over, Suffolk County prosecutors said Tuesday that they will meet with their federal counterparts to determine whether any charges, including murder, could be brought against Bulger and his associates at the state level.
Bulger was convicted of racketeering in federal court Monday in a sweeping indictment that included 19 killings — he was found responsible for 11 of them — but he was never charged with murder in a Massachusetts court. Prosecutors will now look at whether there is any evidence to charge him or his accomplices.
One of his former associates, Patrick Nee, was named during the trial as participating in several murders and allegedly helped bury and move bodies, but was never tried.
“We’re always looking for evidence that can help us investigate and prosecute Suffolk County homicides,” Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, said in a statement.
He said the review will cover not only “what evidence, if any, exists for state-level prosecutions” but also “whether those cases are the subjects of agreements made by prior administrations.”
‘At the end of the day it was good to get this guy in jail. But you’d like to see processes put in place so it doesn’t happen again.’
Conley’s announcement marks the first attempt to address some of the many questions raised in a trial that, while focusing on Bulger’s long history of crime, also dredged up a history of FBI corruption and coverups. Testimony in the trial revealed that some alleged murder accomplices, including Nee, were never charged, and the government’s key witnesses received deals in exchange for their cooperation. One of them, John Martorano, served only 12 years after admitting to 20 murders.
At least one juror has reported that several members of the jury were disgusted with the testimony of Martorano, who is walking free in exchange for his cooperation.
Bill O’Brien, the son of William O’Brien, who was gunned down in 1973, questioned why more was not done to investigate the killing of his father; Bulger was found not responsible for his death.
“It’s like he was a ghost,” said O’Brien, who said he welcomed Conley’s announcement about possible state charges, saying that he cannot find police reports or records of his father’s death. “Why wasn’t more done? I just can’t understand why nobody ever follows up with this stuff.”
Sean McGonagle — the son of one of Bulger’s victims, Paul McGonagle — also questioned why more was not done to investigate the killing of his uncle, Donnie. Martorano testified in Bulger’s trial that Bulger shot Donnie, thinking it was Paul. However, the murder was not listed in Bulger’s racketeering indictment.
“It was sad hearing my Uncle Donnie’s name,” said McGonagle. “I just want to know why they didn’t do anything. I know the FBI was disgusting. I get that. . . . but what about the police?”
Frank Dewan, a retired Boston police sergeant who worked with the the Drug Enforcement Administration to indict 51 drug dealers who were part of Bulger’s organization in 1990, said local and DEA investigators were unable to get federal prosecutors to indict Bulger at the time.
Asked why local police would not indict Bulger on murder charges, either, Dewan said, “My guess is whoever was in charge of homicide . . . just didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to do it, politically.”
There is no statute of limitations for murder, however, and family members of some of Bulger’s victims have called on state prosecutors to find out if there is enough evidence to sustain state charges. Bulger is already expected to spend the rest of his life in jail, based on the outcome of his federal trial.
In that trial, Bulger’s lawyers sought to shift the focus to government corruption.
Hank Brennan, one of his lawyer, said Bulger would have described the depth of corruption if he had been able to testify about an immunity agreement he says he had with the late prosecutor Jeremiah O’Sullivan. He said Bulger decided against testifying after US District Court Judge Denise J. Casper ruled that no such agreement existed, prohibiting him from making the immunity claim at trial.
“Jim Bulger has always wanted to be able to testify in his own defense, and the government has made every effort at every turn to try and silence him,” Brennan said.
Brennan said he will appeal Bulger’s verdict, based in large part on the refusal to let him present the immunity defense. Legal analysts said the appeal, which could take years, could be difficult to make: The immunity claim was rejected by Casper and by US District Court Judge Richard Stearns, who was forced to recuse himself because he had been a prosecutor in Boston.
Bulger, 83, is slated to be sentenced in November and still could face charges in Oklahoma and Florida for murders that occurred in those states. Officials from those states have not said whether they will prosecute him.
Brennan said he found it ironic that at times in the trial it was the defense team that seemed to advocate for some of Bulger’s victims. For instance, the team forced a corrupt former FBI supervisor, John Morris, who was granted immunity, to apologize to the family of Michael Donahue for the role he may have played in Donahue’s death.
The family has a pending lawsuit against the federal government.
Brennan said all the victims’ family members should continue to seek information about the history of FBI corruption. “I think the most important thing for [Bulger] is that the public understands that what the public learned about government corruption in this case is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and Vincent Lisi, special agent in charge of the Boston FBI, said in interviews this week that the era of corruption was a dark past for the FBI, but that it has been addressed. While the trial may have dredged up some of the past, they said it was worth it to convict Bulger.
Former State Police Colonel Thomas Foley, one of the original investigators in the case against Bulger, said prosecutors in Bulger’s trial – who were also the first to target the gangster, along with State Police and the DEA – needed to focus on the case against the gangster and could not be distracted by the corruption.
However, Foley agreed that the trial showed the level of corruption that let Bulger carry out crimes for so long.
“At the end of the day it was good to get this guy in jail,” Foley said, “But you’d like to see processes put in place so it doesn’t happen again.”