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Prosecutors demand Bulger forfeit $25m in assets

Federal prosecutors urged a judge Friday to order James “Whitey” Bulger to forfeit nearly $25.2 million to the government, contending that is a conservative estimate of how much the gangster raked in from drug trafficking and extorting people at gunpoint over several decades.

The order would force Bulger, 84, to turn over all his assets to satisfy the judgment, including the $822,000 in cash seized from his California apartment when he was captured and any profits he might attempt to make by selling his life story. It will also probably pave the way for a battle over the money between the government and Bulger’s victims, including some who won civil judgments against him and have yet to collect.

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One of Bulger’s lawyers, J.W. Carney Jr., said in an e-mail, “He might need a payment plan.”

Prosecutors have said they plan to distribute the money among the families of Bulger’s victims, but Tom Donahue, whose father Michael was gunned down by Bulger in 1982, said, “I don’t think the government is ever going to let that happen.”

The Donahue family won a $6.4 million wrongful death suit against the government for the FBI’s mishandling of Bulger as an informant, only to see it overturned on appeal. Donahue said the government promised to pay daily parking fees incurred by the victims’ families while attending Bulger’s trial, but they have only received a fraction of the cost.

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“The government wants to keep it for themselves,” Donahue said of the forfeited monies. “They don’t even want to pay us for parking. Do you think they want to give us millions of dollars?”

Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s office, said Friday, “The government’s intention is to distribute the forfeited funds to the victims’ families.”

In two motions filed Friday in US District Court in Boston, prosecutors said evidence at Bulger’s eight-week racketeering trial showed that he raked in $25,162,800 from shaking down drug dealers, businessmen, and one of his murder victims, Arthur “Bucky” Barrett.

The filing marked the first time prosecutors have publicly put a dollar amount on Bulger’s racketeering enterprise.

Bulger was convicted in August of 31 of 32 counts in a sweeping federal racketeering indictment as jurors found that he participated in 11 of 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s that he was charged with. He is scheduled to be sentenced in November.

In their filings Friday, prosecutors said evidence showed that the proceeds from Bulger’s racketeering conspiracy totaled “millions upon millions upon millions of dollars.”

Prosecutors included a chart detailing the money Bulger extorted from drug dealers, bookmakers, and businessmen, many of whom described how a menacing Bulger shoved guns in their faces and threatened to kill them if they did not pay him. Evidence at trial showed Bulger made weekly earnings in the 1980s that totaled more than $20 million just from marijuana and cocaine trafficking.

Bulger, who had been one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted, was captured in June 2011 after more than 16 years on the run, living in a rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica, Calif., with girlfriend Catherine Greig. The FBI found $822,000 in cash and 30 guns in the apartment, most of it inside holes Bulger had cut in the walls and covered with plaster.

Agents also seized a memoir that Bulger had been writing.

Prosecutors told US District Judge Denise J. Casper, who presided over Bulger’s trial, that they were seeking the cash and other property from the apartment. But Bulger wanted to keep a 1986 Stanley Cup ring from the Montreal Canadiens championship because he said it was a gift.

The ring is a replica, prosecutors said, and indicated that authorities may try to seize it, even if it was a gift, to satisfy the judgment against Bulger.

Prosecutors wrote that the government may take depositions of witnesses to try to locate other assets the gangster has. Once the judge issues a forfeiture order, prosecutors said anyone with a legal claim to Bulger’s assets must immediately petition the court.

Jurors at his trial had been unable to reach a verdict on whether the government proved Bulger strangled 26-year-old Debra Davis in 1981. But when Bulger was a fugitive, a Norfolk County judge found he was liable for Davis’s murder and awarded her family a $15 million judgment.

Julie (Rakes) Dammers has a federal lien against Bulger for $29 million, which she was awarded by a federal judge who found that the gangster extorted a South Boston liquor store from her and her husband.

“There may be a lot of other judgments that exist throughout different courtrooms, but the only one that is perfected legally is the one we have,” said Boston attorney Anthony Cardinale, who represents Dammers. He said the lien is against the cash seized from Bulger’s California hideout.

Some of Bulger’s property and cash were already forfeited to the government in civil case while he was on the run. Bulger forfeited $2 million in lottery winnings from 1991; $99,335 from a Boston safe deposit box; a condominium in Clearwater, Fla., that sold for $106,709; and the liquor store extorted from Dammers and her husband in 1984.

While Bulger was a fugitive, the FBI seized the contents of safe deposit boxes belonging to the gangster in London, Dublin, Florida, and Canada. The FBI said the London box contained $50,000. Yet, the government has never disclosed all of the assets seized.

After his arrest, Bulger said he could not afford a lawyer because his money had been seized, and he was appointed lawyers at taxpayer expense.

Bulger’s defense team billed the government more than $2.6 million between June 2011 and June of this year, and that amount will climb to cover costs from July and August while his trial was underway, according to court records.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at Shelley.Murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.
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