This five-part series by the Spotlight team was prepared by editor Gerard O’Neill and reporters Dick Lehr, Mitchell Zuckoff, and Shelley Murphy.
The way former FBI agent John Connolly sees it, several of his onetime colleagues have lied about him under oath.
Connolly, a center-stage figure in the court hearings on FBI misconduct, has repeatedly disputed damaging statements made by other agents concerning his dealings with gangland informants James "Whitey’’ Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman’’ Flemmi.
While the others have made their claims on the witness stand under oath, Connolly’s rebuttals have been made in interviews, since he has declined to testify, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
First up was John Morris, Connolly’s former FBI supervisor and head of the organized-crime squad. Morris testified that while he was attending a conference in Georgia in 1982, he asked Connolly if Bulger would provide some cash to fly his girlfriend down to join him. Morris said Connolly gave the woman $1,000, courtesy of the gangsters. Then in 1984, Morris testified, Connolly was the conduit for another bribe: a case of expensive wine, with another $1,000 tucked inside.
Morris also testified that in 1979 or 1980, he asked Connolly about Bulger and Flemmi’s motives: "What do they want of us?’’ The answer Morris said he received was: "a head start.’’
Connolly called Morris’s bribe testimony "a malicious lie.’’ He added: "In my entire career with the FBI I never compromised my personal or professional integrity.’’ In a telephone interview with his lawyer Robert Popeo on the line, Connolly said the "head start’’ comment was "pure fiction.’’
James Ring, another former chief in the organized-crime squad, testified that a dinner meeting in 1983 or 1984 arranged by Connolly was interrupted by a brief visit from then-Senate President William Bulger, the gangster’s younger brother. Bill Bulger was a neighbor of Flemmi’s parents, hosts of the dinner party. Ring also testified that he upbraided Connolly for cozy treatment of the gangsters.
Connolly said Ring was "hallucinating’’ and denied that Bill Bulger was present "at that or any other meeting I attended at the home of Mr. Flemmi’s parents.’’ Bill Bulger also denied Ring’s testimony. As for the reprimand, Connolly said it never happened.
Robert Fitzpatrick, a former FBI supervisor, testified that another FBI agent had accused Connolly of rifling through his files on the 1981 murder of Roger Wheeler, an Oklahoma jai-alai executive. Fitzpatrick said the other agent believed Connolly had shared information with Bulger, a suspect in the case.
Connolly called that "ludicrous.’’ He said such a breach would have triggered an investigation, but that never happened. He said he actually helped the agent by arranging for Bulger and Flemmi to be questioned about Wheeler’s murder.
Roderick J. Kennedy, a retired FBI agent, testified that Connolly told him that Bulger and Flemmi had extorted $60,000 to $90,000 from a drug dealer who had stored marijuana in South Boston without their permission. Kennedy said no one from the FBI shared that information with the Drug Enforcement Administration, which was trying to build a case at the time.
Connolly said he never told Kennedy any such thing. He also dismissed Kennedy as a man with a drinking problem who was fired from the FBI for pocketing informant money.
Almost as an afterthought, Kennedy testified that Connolly once told him "they’ll never get Bulger because he’s too smart.’’