Metro

‘Whitey’ Bulger’s cash set to go to victims

Patricia Donahue, widow of James “Whitey” Bulger murder victim Michael Donahue, and her son Michael spoke with the media outside the Moakley Federal Courthouse on March 14, 2012.

Barry Chin/Globe staff/File

Patricia Donahue, widow of the slain Michael Donahue, and her son Michael spoke with the media outside the Moakley Federal Courthouse on March 14, 2012.

Federal prosecutors are poised to distribute nearly $822,000 that was seized from James “Whitey” Bulger to the families of 20 murder victims and three men who were extorted by the gangster, according to authorities.

A judge approved the preliminary forfeiture order two years ago after sentencing Bulger to life in prison for participating in 11 murders while running a sprawling South Boston-based criminal enterprise. But the process stalled when the widow of one of Bulger’s victims launched an unsuccessful legal challenge seeking a larger share of the assets.

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“Now that the court of appeals has dismissed a challenge to the forfeiture we have been moving forward in our efforts to provide these funds to the victims and have been working with them directly over the past several weeks,” said Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.

Bulger, now 85, was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in June 2011 after more than 16 years on the run and the FBI found the cash and 30 guns stuffed in the walls of his apartment.

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US District Judge Denise J. Casper ordered a $25.2 million forfeiture judgment against Bulger, allowing the government to seize current and future assets.

On Tuesday, prosecutors filed documents in federal court indicating that Bulger’s cash, guns, jewelry, and other items seized from his California apartment are in the custody of the US Marshals Service in preparation of the final forfeiture order.

A notice posted on a Justice Department website on May 8 gives a brief description of the items seized and warns that anyone, other than Bulger, seeking to challenge the forfeiture must petition the government within 60 days.

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A jury found Bulger guilty of participating in 11 murders, concluded that the government failed to prove he was involved in seven others, and was unable to reach a verdict in another, the 1981 slaying of 26-year-old Debra Davis.

Yet, prosecutors have offered to split the money evenly between the estate of all 19 victims, and of another victim who was murdered by a Bulger associate. Another share will be split between three of Bulger’s extortion victims.

“Those families were victims, they deserve it,” said Steve Davis, the brother of Debra Davis. However, he added that no one is getting a windfall. “It’s really peanuts,” he said.

Initially, prosecutors estimated each family would get about $40,000, but the amount is unclear, given that the cash has been earning interest.

Prosecutors have also said they plan to auction off Bulger’s belongings — including his diamond Claddagh ring — and split those profits among the families as well. Sterling said no date has been set for the auction.

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