Two inmates from Massachusetts have been charged with fatally beating notorious South Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger in his cell at a West Virginia penitentiary nearly four years ago, while a third former inmate has been charged with conspiring with the pair to carry out the brutal slaying, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Fotios “Freddy” Geas, 55, a Mafia enforcer from West Springfield who is serving a life sentence for two gangland murders, and Paul J. DeCologero, 48, of Lowell, “are accused of striking 89-year-old Bulger in the head multiple times and causing his death” at a federal prison in West Virginia in 2018, prosecutors announced Thursday.
They and a third former inmate, Sean McKinnon, 36, of Vermont, who was released earlier this year, are charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
Bulger’s attorney, Hank Brennan,called the charges “inconsequential” because Bulger’s family believes the government is responsible for his death. The aging, ailing inmate was transferred from a protective unit at a prison in Florida to US Penitentiary Hazelton, where he was placed in general population and killed less than 12 hours after his arrival.
“Unless there’s a name or names of Justice Department officials and Bureau of Prisons officials who are responsible for his death, then it’s inconsequential,” Brennan said of the indictment. “It was death by proxy. The mechanism used to murder him was really irrelevant. It’s the persons who allowed it to happen that need accountability most.”
Bulger, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2013 for killing 11 people while running a sprawling criminal enterprise from the 1970s to the 1990s, was publicly identified in the late 1990s as a longtime FBI informant who provided information against local Mafiosi.
Yet he was transferred under questionable circumstances from a Florida prison to Hazelton, one of the nation’s most violent prisons, and placed in general population alongside Massachusetts organized crime figures, including Geas and DeCologero.
Bulger was in a wheelchair, had suffered numerous heart attacks, and had previously been held in units designated for inmates, such as informants or pedophiles, who were believed to need protection from other inmates. He had spent his last months before the transfer at USP Coleman II in Florida in solitary confinement after a verbal confrontation with a nurse. Prison officials changed his medical classification, claiming his health had dramatically improved, paving the way for his transfer to Hazelton, which provided fewer medical services.
When the cell doors were unlocked on Oct. 30, 2018, the morning after Bulger’s arrival, he was beaten to death with a padlock stuffed in a sock.
Geas and DeCologero were quickly identified as suspects. They were captured on video surveillance entering Bulger’s cell about two hours before he was found dead, according to several people briefed on the attack.
In January, a federal judge dismissed a wrongful death suit filed by Bulger’s family against the Bureau of Prisons and prison officials alleging Bulger “was subjected to a risk of certain death or serious bodily injury by the intentional or deliberately indifferent actions” of prison officials. The judge found that prison officials cannot be held liable for Bulger’s transfer because they are protected from suits involving decisions they make while exercising their discretion.
A federal appeals court is weighing an appeal by Bulger’s family.
Brennan accused the government of hiding information related to Bulger’s transfer and stalling action on his death until after the family’s civil suit was dismissed, which he said “leads to the resounding inference that the government stalled charging anybody so it could protect its own interests.”
But in a statement Thursday, US Attorney Rachael Rollins, who now oversees the office that won Bulger’s conviction after a long trial in federal court in Boston, remembered Bulger’s victims as she described the West Virginia indictment as the beginning of a process to hold his killers accountable.
“In the truest of ironies, Bulger’s family has experienced the excruciating pain and trauma their relative inflicted on far too many, and the justice system is now coming to their aid,” Rollins said.
According to the US attorney’s office for the Northern District of West Virginia, Geas and DeCologero are charged with aiding and abetting first-degree murder, along with assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Geas faces a separate charge for murder by a federal inmate serving a life sentence, while McKinnon faces a charge of making a false statement to a federal agent.
The trio were indicted Wednesday, according to authorities, but as of Thursday night the case had yet to be unsealed on the court docket.
Geas remains at Hazelton, where has been held in solitary confinement since Bulger’s slaying.
In a brief telephone interview Thursday night, Geas’s son, Alex, said, “I stand behind my dad no matter what. This still doesn’t excuse the federal justice system for keeping him in solitary for almost four years.”
Daniel D. Kelly, a Springfield attorney who represents Geas, said the charges “were not unexpected” but didn’t justify keeping Geas locked up for 23 hours a day in solitary confinement while the investigation dragged on for years.
“I’m just wondering why it took 3 1/2 years to investigate a crime scene they have complete control over,” Kelly said. “The federal government doesn’t have a good reputation for cleaning up its own messes so it’s curious when they take long to do things like this.”
Geas was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 2003 murders of Springfield mob boss Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno and an associate.
DeCologero, a member of a North Shore organized crime group that robbed rival drug dealers and killed a teenage girl they feared might give them up, has four years left on a 25-year sentence and is currently at a Virginia penitentiary.
McKinnon, who was sentenced to eight years for stealing a dozen guns, was Geas’s cellmate at the time of Bulger’s slaying. He was taken into custody in Florida and appeared briefly in court Thursday, according to the US attorney’s office. He was ordered detained until a hearing Monday on whether he should be freed on bail while the case is pending.
The brother of Debra Davis, a 26-year-old woman who was allegedly strangled to death by Bulger and an associate in 1981, said he was not happy that the men were charged in Bulger’s death.
“I’d kiss his hand like he was the godfather,” Steve Davis said of Geas. “I’m going to send him a $500 canteen gift.”