James “Whitey” Bulger insists he was never an informant and professes his love for his imprisoned girlfriend during a telephone call with his lawyer that was recorded by a documentary film crew.
The rare audio of the 84-year-old former South Boston gangster is featured in “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger,” a documentary by filmmaker Joe Berlinger that premieres Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. It will also be screened at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline on Jan. 30.
The documentary chronicles Bulger’s trial and explores his relationship with the FBI and the US Justice Department.
“The goal was not to give Bulger a platform per se, but rather for his views to be a catalyst to provoke conversation that the narrow scope of his trial prevented,” Berlinger said in a press release. “While some may view the recorded phone calls with Bulger and his defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr. as an apologia for Bulger, nothing could be further from the truth, as the film goes into significant detail about Bulger’s crimes and the impact on his victims, and we allow the prosecutors to refute Bulger’s claims.”
Bulger, who is serving two life prison terms at a high-security federal prison in Tucson for participating in 11 murders while running a sprawling criminal organization from the 1970s to the 1990s, never took the stand during his eight-week racketeering trial in Boston last summer.
Bulger’s defense team spent much of the trial trying to refute evidence that he was a longtime FBI informant, who provided information about his rivals in the Mafia and members of his own gang.
Produced by RadicalMedia and CNN Films, the film features Carney talking to Bulger, who can be heard on speaker phone saying he was never an informant. Bulger says he offered to plead guilty to all charges against him, including murders in Oklahoma and Florida that carry the death penalty, if prosecutors would let his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, go free.
Bulger made the same claims in letters to a friend, who shared them with the Globe before the trial. In an earlier interview, former assistant US attorney Brian T. Kelly, part of the team that prosecuted Bulger, called Bulger’s claims “complete nonsense” and said the gangster tried to negotiate Greig’s immediate release and wanted the states to agree not to seek the death penalty.
The FBI listed Bulger as an informant from 1975 to 1990, but Bulger’s lawyers argued that his file was fabricated by a corrupt FBI agent who took bribes from the gangster and leaked him information.
The only time Bulger’s voice was heard at the trial was when he traded profanities with some of his former associates who testified for the government and when prosecutors played some short conversations between the gangster and his relatives that were recorded when they visited him at the Plymouth jail while he was awaiting trial. In one conversation, he mimicked the sound of machine gun fire while recounting the slaying of one of his victims.
Bulger, who fled Boston shortly before his 1995 indictment, was arrested along with Greig in June 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif., living in a rent-controlled apartment a couple of blocks from the beach. Greig, now 62, was sentenced to eight years in prison for helping him evade capture for more than 16 years.
In August, Bulger was convicted of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, and weapons charges. Jurors found he participated in 11 of 19 murders he was accused of and was involved in drug trafficking.