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John Connolly was the FBI’s fall guy

Whitey Bulger’s handler was far from the only one who should have been held accountable for enabling Bulger to murder and menace with impunity.

John Connolly after a hearing in 2008 in Miami.
John Connolly after a hearing in 2008 in Miami.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

So, with the blessings of the family of a guy he helped get murdered, John Connolly, FBI handler of the South Boston degenerate and gangster Whitey Bulger, will now get the opportunity to do what he and Bulger deprived so many others of — die in his own bed, surrounded by his family.

There are some who think Connolly, now 80 and cancer-ridden, should have died in prison. I’m not one of them.

Whether John Connolly should die in prison is not the right question.

The right question is, why was he the only FBI agent put on trial and put in prison?

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Connolly cultivated Bulger as an informant to pad his reputation, to get raises and commendations.

But who gave him those raises and commendations?

Connolly gave Bulger carte blanche to wipe out competitors and, in some cases, including the murder of John Callahan for which Connolly was in prison, tipped Bulger off about those who might testify against him.

His FBI supervisors not only knew what Connolly, and by extension Bulger, was doing, but encouraged it and rewarded them for it. The FBI promoted Connolly, showcased him as an expert on how to cultivate informants, all while looking the other way as Bulger murdered with impunity.

Whitey bought one of those supervisors, John Morris, with a case of wine and a plane ticket for his mistress. Like Connolly, Morris was complicit in the murder of a hoodlum, Brian Halloran, which was bad enough, but also the murder of an innocent father of three, Michael Donahue, who had the misfortune of offering Halloran a ride home when Bulger chose to clip Halloran.

Morris cut a deal to testify against Connolly and was allowed to waltz free.

Mark Wolf, the federal judge who blew open the conspiracy and forced the FBI to admit Bulger was their snitch, nine years after The Boston Globe Spotlight Team first exposed the unholy alliance, concluded that more than a dozen FBI agents, supervisors, and Justice Department officials had engaged in what could be generously described as corruption in their handling of Bulger.

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The Justice Department, in the name of then special prosecutor John Durham, promised to get to the bottom of the culpability of other federal officials. But Durham’s report has never seen the light of the day.

The Justice Department and the FBI conspired to fashion a self-serving narrative, that Whitey Bulger’s reign of terror in Southie and beyond was the work of a rogue agent, John Connolly, who was motivated by greed and a desire to protect not only his snitch but the snitch’s politician brother, William Bulger, the Massachusetts Senate president.

It was left to some honorable federal prosecutors, ably assisted mostly by estimable agents of the DEA and Massachusetts State Police, to hold Whitey accountable and put him away for a life that ended — surprise, surprise — in a miasma of federal incompetence or worse, murdered in federal custody by another inmate from Massachusetts who had no business being within a hundred miles of Bulger.

After pinning everything on Connolly in the criminal cases, the Justice Department shamelessly changed tactics on the civil side, after families of Bulger’s victims sued the government. Instead of settling, the Justice Department spent millions on litigation, fighting families and smearing victims. They played a long game, figuring with the passage of enough time, people would just forget.

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They’re probably right.

Michael Albano was on the parole board in the 1980s when he expressed sympathy for four men who had been framed by the FBI for a gangland murder. Connolly and Morris paid him a visit, warning him to back off, that his sympathy could hurt his political ambitions. Sure enough, after Albano was elected mayor of Springfield, the feds tried unsuccessfully to take him down.

Albano looks at Connolly’s situation and ruefully concludes that the feds got away with murder.

“Connolly was their fall guy,” he said. “He bore the burden of so much corruption. The feds played it perfectly. They got away with it.”


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.