Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

Both Bulgers can soon be forgotten

The Bulger story never quite ends, and probably won’t until Whitey goes to meet his maker, but this trial should at least help push the Bulger era further into Boston’s past.

Hearing the testimony about Bulger’s crimes has been cathartic even as it’s left one thoroughly dismayed.

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Dismayed at the sheer brutality of those crimes — and that some involved in them are now walking free.

Dismayed at the extent to which Bulger managed to corrupt the FBI, turning the once-proud bureau into an enabler of his criminal reign, whose agents told Bulger when informants were talking to investigators about him and tipped him off when his indictment was pending.

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Dismayed at the pain the victims’ families have suffered because of Bulger and his fellow thugs, even while some of his enablers were pushing the notion that he was a “good” bad guy, a Robin Hood villain who kept South Boston free of drugs and protected the neighborhood from other hoodlums. This trial should shame anyone who ever trafficked in that absurdity.

But despite the dismay, at long last, some truth has been revealed and some justice will be done.

And yet, though this trial has resolved beyond doubt the enormous evil of Whitey, it should also underscore the dishonorable behavior of Whitey’s brother William, the former president of the state Senate and the University of Massachusetts.

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Recall that in January of 1995, shortly after Whitey’s indictment for racketeering, William and Whitey arranged for a secret telephone call at the home of one of William’s associates, where it would go undetected by investigators. William, then the Senate president, didn’t urge his brother to turn himself in. He would, however, soon advise his sister to try to lay legal claim to Whitey’s phony Lottery winnings.

Nor would William feel any moral imperative to aid in Whitey’s capture even after he had been indicted for multiple murders.

“I do have an honest loyalty to my brother, and I care about him, and I know that’s not welcome news, but . . . it’s my hope that I’m never helpful to anyone against him,’’ William told a federal grand jury in 2001. “I don’t feel an obligation to help everyone to catch him.’’

Similarly, this trial should remind people of other controversies that have long swirled around William, particularly the allegation that he and his law associate extorted $500,000 from developer Harold Brown during his mid-1980s effort to build a high-rise at 75 State Street. As Whitey’s trial underscored, FBI agent John Morris, who oversaw the initial FBI probe into the 75 State Street affair and was closely involved with a subsequent reinvestigation, was by his own admission corrupt, having accepted thousands of dollars from Whitey.

When federal investigators launched the second probe after a Globe Spotlight report, John Connolly, the corrupt FBI agent who served as Whitey’s principal enabler and William’s fawning acolyte, asked Morris what William should do. Saying that he didn’t think the case against him was strong, Morris counseled that William Bulger should consent to an interview with federal authorities, the better to end the public clamor.

Although there have been no corruption allegations about Jeremiah T. O’Sullivan, who as interim US attorney oversaw the second investigation and eventually asserted that there weren’t prosecutable offenses, O’Sullivan did have a secret conflict. As Dick Lehr, a former Globe reporter and coauthor of “Black Mass,’’ has written, O’Sullivan was aware of Whitey’s role as an FBI informant and was said to have been supportive of it; information from Bulger obviously would have helped O’Sullivan in his own prosecutorial efforts to break the Mafia. All of which is to say, there’s real reason to be skeptical about his decision not to seek indictments against William Bulger and his associate.

It’s also long been whispered that the FBI might have played an untoward role in the long-ago investigation and prosecution of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph DiCarlo, whose downfall opened the way for William Bulger’s ascent to the Senate’s top leadership. Farfetched? Maybe, but given the role John Connolly played with the Bulgers, one can’t dismiss the possibility out of hand.

This trial should remind people of controversies that have long swirled around William.

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We may never know the full story about either Bulger brother. But at very least, this trial has helped Boston come to terms with a confounding chapter of its history.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.
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