THERE ARE no perfect crimes, and there is no perfect justice. Catherine Greig, James “Whitey’’ Bulger’s girlfriend, will plead guilty on Wednesday to charges related to her assistance in hiding him over the last 16 years. Though the families of Bulger’s alleged victims are rightfully upset at the prospect that Greig may receive a relatively light sentence for her collusion with a man accused of causing them so much pain, it may be that the best way to build a strong case against Bulger is to give Greig a little slack.
Greig may yet testify against Bulger, steer prosecutors to evidence related to his Boston crime spree, or simply remain silent. If she cooperates with prosecutors, however, a judge would consider giving her a reduced sentence. Indeed, in a meeting on Monday with relatives of Bulger’s alleged victims, representatives of the US attorney’s office seemed to be preparing them for the possibility that Greig would be released after only a few years behind bars.
The plea arrangement, coming after additional charges were filed against her on Monday for identity fraud, shows that prosecutors are making imperfect choices in a potentially difficult case. She will be immune to further prosecution for hiding the man she loved. But it does not mean she is getting a sweetheart deal. It means that Greig, 62, is being given a choice whether to help prosecutors and spend less time behind bars, or to hold out and spend more of her life in prison.
The families of those who were allegedly killed by Bulger understandably want Greig to face the consequences of so many bad and illegal decisions. Through deception and multiple identities, she helped her gangster-boyfriend get his basic needs - shelter, food and medical care - for over a decade. The FBI’s 16 years of fruitless searching for Bulger was, undoubtedly, painful for the victims’ families. And it’s unlikely that Bulger could have succeeded in evading authorities without Greig, who joined his charade in portraying a retired couple living near the beach in Santa Monica, Calif.
But Greig isn’t the primary target here. Her life with Bulger on the lam is not why he was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Monday-morning quarterbacking about the government’s legal strategy - and whether it was wise to give Greig a plea deal - should wait until the end of Bulger’s trial. The relatives of victims, prosecutors, and most other Bostonians have the same goal: to bring Bulger to trial for 19 murders before the 82-year-old gangster dies. That would bring closure to the victims’ families, and for the city he terrorized.