Handling informants has long been a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Police try to extract inside information that may lead to further prosecutions while informants serve up rival criminals to gain immunity. To call the police and informants in such arrangements strange bedfellows doesn’t begin to describe what happened between the FBI and James “Whitey’’ Bulger.
“Betrayal’’ is a mind-blowing, punch-in-the-face insider account of everything that can go wrong when police get too cozy with criminals. The FBI sought to use Irish mobster Bulger to take down the Italian Mafia in New England. Instead, according to Robert Fitzpatrick, Bulger used the FBI to get away with murder.
Fitzpatrick, a former agent who spent two decades with the FBI, tells the stomach-churning story from inside the bureau’s “integrity-challenged’’ Boston office. Fitzpatrick’s is a tale of organizational dysfunction and corruption that extends beyond a single rogue FBI agent - the convicted John Connolly, Bulger’s “handler’’ inside the Boston office - into the top echelons of the federal law enforcement agency.
Fitzpatrick says that the FBI’s desire to eliminate the Italian mob clouded the judgment of many. While Connolly and others inside the bureau inflated the importance of the information Bulger passed on, Fitzpatrick, who actually arrested Mafia kingpin Gennaro Angiulo in a North End restaurant, repeatedly tried to argue that Bulger, who was clearly a public danger in his own right, had limited value as an FBI “asset.’’ Fitzpatrick spent much of his time in the Boston office trying in vain to terminate the agency’s relationship with Bulger, his efforts blocked by higher-ups who viewed him as a troublemaker.
In exchange for becoming an informant, Bulger received a dream deal, Fitzpatrick says. First, his handlers promised to protect him, leaving him to continue his criminal enterprise without competition from the Italian mob. They let him know about pending investigations of his activities by other state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Massachusetts State Police and the US Drug Enforcement Agency. And, they tipped him off about associates who were cooperating with law enforcement. Armed with this information, Bulger is alleged to have tortured, dismembered, and “disappeared’’ these “rats’’ all over Greater Boston.
Fitzpatrick asks, “Did the FBI lose a sense of perspective in letting the [Italian Mafia] investigation override all other concerns,’’ allowing Bulger to get away with serial murder? Fitzpatrick says yes, suggesting that the FBI’s botched handling of Bulger got so out of control that after a while higher-ups appeared to feel compelled to cover for him to protect the agency’s reputation.
Fitzpatrick describes testifying in several civil suits brought against the FBI. In one 2006 decision, federal Judge Reginald Lindsay awarded $3 million to the family of John McIntyre, a member of Bulger’s gang who was killed after Bulger learned that McIntyre had cooperated with law enforcement officers. In his ruling, Lindsay concluded that “the FBI stuck its head in the sand when it came to the criminal activities of Bulger.’’
In one of the most devastating examples described in “Betrayal,’’ Connolly let Bulger know that bookmaker Richie Castucci had turned informant. After Castucci was murdered, Connolly “investigated’’ the homicide and declared that Castucci had been killed by the Italian mob. It is incidents such as this that make Fitzpatrick’s insider account of FBI agents who have lost their moral compass a contender for one of the most disturbing books you’ll ever read about law enforcement.
Chuck Leddy, a freelance writer who lives in Dorchester, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.