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Prisoners knew ‘Whitey’ Bulger would be arriving in 2018 and quickly plotted to kill him, prosecutors allege

At hearing, prosecutors provide details about Bulger’s slaying that had not been publicly disclosed.

A 1959 mugshot of James “Whitey” Bulger.Jason Baker

Before notorious South Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger arrived at a federal prison in West Virginia in October 2018, word had already spread among inmates that he had been transferred there, according to a federal prosecutor.

And they quickly plotted to kill him, the prosecutor alleged in court Monday.

We are “getting ready to get another higher-profile person here tonight,” Sean McKinnon, then an inmate at US Penitentiary Hazelton, told his mother during a phone call around 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2018, the day before Bulger was beaten to death in his jail cell. “You should know the name . . . Whitey Bulger.”


“Oh Jesus,” said McKinnon’s mother, Cheryl Prevost, asking if Bulger would be kept separate from other inmates. “Stay away from him please.”

“Ah, I can’t,” McKinnon said during the conversation, which was recorded by prison officials and recounted in court Monday by the prosecutor. McKinnon told his mother that his cellmate was “a henchman for a mob family out of New York and Boston” and everyone on their unit had been alerted that Bulger was about to be placed there.

Sean McKinnon, one of the three men charged with conspiracy to murder Whitey Bulger, was free and living in Ocala, Fla., when arrested last Thursday.Marion County Sheriff's office

“You get in trouble,” said Prevost, voicing concern over the prospect of her son crossing paths with Bulger.

“Don’t worry,” McKinnon said. “Oh, I don’t plan on it.”

Less than 12 hours after Bulger’s arrival at the prison in Bruceton Mills, W. Va., the 89-year-old was found bludgeoned to death in his bed, Assistant US Attorney Hannah Nowalk told a magistrate judge Monday at a hearing in US District Court in Ocala, Fla.

Nowalk had asked that McKinnon, who was released from prison earlier this year and is now one of three men charged in Bulger’s killing, be held until his trial. US Magistrate Judge Philip Lammens agreed, saying he was a flight risk and a potential danger to the community.


During the roughly 70-minute hearing, Nowalk provided details about Bulger’s slaying that had not been publicly disclosed, including a timeline of the attack and snippets of two prison phone calls related to Bulger, according to a transcript of the court hearing.

Fotios “Freddy” Geas, 55, a Mafia enforcer from West Springfield who is serving a life sentence for two gangland murders, and Paul J. “Pauly” DeCologero, 48, of Lowell were charged last week in federal court in the Northern District of West Virginia with beating Bulger to death. McKinnon, 36, of Vermont, is accused of acting as a “lookout.” All three are charged with conspiracy to kill Bulger. Geas and DeCologero are charged with aiding and abetting first degree murder, and McKinnon is charging with lying to the FBI about the slaying.

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.

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.

Bulger, who had suffered numerous heart attacks, had previously been held in units designated for inmates, such as informants or pedophiles, who were believed to need protection from other inmates. 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’s lawyer, Hank Brennan, has called the charges against the three men “inconsequential” and says the Bulger family believes the Bureau of Prisons is responsible for his death.

Prosecutors did not say how McKinnon knew of Bulger’s transfer, and it is not clear whether it is common for prisoners to learn about an inmate’s transfer beforehand.

The Bureau of Prisons has provided few details about what happened, citing an ongoing investigation.

On Monday, Nowalk provided a timeline of the moments before and after Bulger’s slaying.

At 8:30 p.m., Bulger arrived at Hazelton and was escorted in his wheelchair to cell 132.

At 5 a.m., Geas and McKinnon, who share cell 125, are seen meeting in their cell with DeCologero, according to surveillance video reviewed by the FBI. They leave together after several minutes.

By 6 a.m., cell doors throughout the unit are unlocked and inmates are free to walk around and go to breakfast.

At 6:06 a.m., Geas and DeCologero enter Bulger’s cell, where they remain for seven minutes, according to footage, which did not capture what happened inside the cell. But McKinnon “sat at a table with a view of cell 132 and the officers’ station, so he was able to see both Whitey Bulger’s cell and the officers’ station to be on lookout,” Nowalk said in court.


By 6:13 a.m., Geas and DeCologero leave Bulger’s cell, and with McKinnon head back to the cell shared by Geas and McKinnon.

At 8:07 a.m., Bulger is found dead in his bed by prison authorities.

At Monday’s hearing, Nowalk said three inmates have said that Geas, DeCologero or McKinnon made admissions to them about Bulger’s slaying, including one who alleged that DeCologero claimed he and Geas “used a belt with a lock attached to it and beat Mr. Bulger to death.” Witnesses also say McKinnon admitted he stood as lookout while Geas and DeCologero killed Bulger, she said.

One witness testified before a grand jury that he asked McKinnon and DeCologero if they were the guys that killed Bulger and they said they were.

“That same inmate indicated that Pauly [DeCologero] told him that Bulger was a snitch,” Nowalk said. “Pauly said as soon as they saw Bulger come into the unit, they planned to kill him.”

Prosecutors also provided the court with transcripts of two prison phone conversations between McKinnon and his mother, the one on Oct. 29, 2018, and another one recorded on Nov. 15, 2018. The judge granted the government’s request to seal the transcripts, but prosecutors read portions of those conversations in court Monday.

During the November call, Prevost questioned why prison officials failed to protect a high-profile, vulnerable inmate like Bulger. She asked her son how Bulger’s killers got into his cell, and he told her that the cell doors open at 6 a.m.


“Well they knew he was a high risk,” Prevost said during the call. “They’ve been waiting to get him. It’s all over. Everybody knows that.”

She said, “Somebody did some talking if they knew he was coming there . . . they should have known to protect him, and they’re not that stupid, are they?”

McKinnon said, “Nah. They were waiting for it to happen probably.”

Prevost said, “So was I.”

“Why wasn’t he put in solitary or something for a while?” Prevost asked. “It’s like they were waiting for this to happen. That’s all I can feel.”

“Exactly,” McKinnon said.

McKinnon’s attorney, Christine Bird, told the court that he has been living with his mother in Ocala since he was released from a halfway house in July after finishing an eight-year sentence for stealing a dozen guns. She urged the court to let him stay there while awaiting trial on the new charges and said he has been working at a manufacturing company, earning $3,000 a month.

She said McKinnon’s statements to his mother on the phone “do not establish that he was involved in a conspiracy to kill Mr. Bulger. “The fact that his roommate was a henchman has nothing to do with him. He didn’t select his roommate,” she said.

Bird argued that it “is not significant” that McKinnon told his mother that Bulger was on his way to Hazelton

“It wasn’t just that my client somehow especially knew,” Bird said. “The entire unit was alerted that Whitey Bulger was coming to the unit.”

Shelley Murphy can be reached at Follow her @shelleymurph.