James “Whitey’’ Bulger’s girlfriend, Catherine Greig, struck a controversial deal to plead guilty Wednesday to charges she helped the elderly gangster elude capture for 16 years - a deal that could send the 60-year-old Greig to prison for as little as a few years and does not force her to testify against Bulger.
The plea agreement, which allows Greig to keep her Quincy home but prohibits her from profiting from her life with Bulger with a book or movie, rankled some of the families of the 19 people he is accused of killing.
“She’s pretty much, if you ask me, like everybody else, got a sweetheart deal,’’ Tom Donahue told reporters Monday after emerging from an hourlong meeting in which US Attorney Carmen Ortiz explained Greig’s plea agreement to about a dozen family members still grieving the loss of fathers, husbands, brothers, and sisters.
“I’m definitely bitter about it,’’ said Donahue, whose father, Michael, was an innocent bystander, allegedly gunned down by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride home to the gangster’s intended target. “She’ll probably be out of jail in a couple of years and she won’t have to answer to anybody.’’
According to a plea agreement filed Monday in US District Court, Greig will plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to harbor a fugitive, which she already faced, and two new charges: conspiracy to commit identity fraud and identity fraud.
Each charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The plea agreement says prosecutors and Greig’s lawyer have not reached an agreement on what her sentence should be and each side is free to make separate arguments to the judge. It does not require Greig to cooperate with authorities against Bulger.
The US attorney’s office declined to comment Monday on the plea agreement and Greig’s lawyer, Kevin Reddington of Brockton, did not return calls.
Steven Davis, whose 26-year-old sister Debra was strangled, allegedly by Bulger, in 1981, said that prosecutors did not disclose to the families what sentence they would be seeking for Greig. But, Davis said, prosecutors cautioned him that she could face as little as 32 months under federal sentencing guidelines because she has no prior record and was not involved in Bulger’s alleged crimes before joining him on the run.
“I’m upset with it, very much,’’ said Davis, adding that he does not understand why prosecutors could not have piled more charges on Greig in an effort to pressure her to cooperate.
“What they want out of this is they want the conviction,’’ said Davis, adding he would have liked to see the case go before a jury and hear all of the evidence.
Bulger, 82, a longtime FBI informant, fled just before his January 1995 federal racketeering indictment after being warned by retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. that he was about to be arrested. The notorious South Boston crime boss was charged with 19 murders after he fled, elevated to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, and became the target of a worldwide manhunt.
The fugitive couple was captured June 22 in Santa Monica, Calif., where they had lived in the same rent-controlled apartment at least since 1998, according to neighbors and the FBI. They went by the names Charles and Carol Gasko.
The FBI found more than $820,000 cash and 30 loaded guns hidden inside the walls of the apartment shared by Greig and Bulger. Since they were returned to the Boston area last year, Greig has remained jailed without bail at a Rhode Island facility and Bulger is being held at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility.
In a statement signed March 7, admitting to the crimes, Greig said she posed as Bulger’s wife and used 10 different aliases while shopping for the couple, paying utility bills, meeting with doctors and dentists, and paying for prescription drugs for herself and her fugitive boyfriend. She also admitted that she is the person depicted on surveillance footage outside a Santa Monica pharmacy that was shown in court during hearings in her case.
Greig admitted she and Bulger obtained false identification documents including drivers licenses and Social Security cards of real people. She admitted that she used one fake identity to pick up medicine and obtain medical services between 2002 and 2011, and used other aliases while dealing with a dentist who treated Bulger.
“I engaged in conduct that was intended to help Bulger avoid detection from law enforcement and to provide him with support and assistance during his flight from law enforcement,’’ Greig said in her statement.
Greig said she never used the fake identities “to defraud anyone else of money, goods or other property, although I do readily agree that I was in possession of the false identities and that I used the false identities to fill out forms to obtain medical services.’’
Although the agreement does not require Greig to forfeit her home, a forfeiture provision says the government may seize any assets traceable to her crimes. That includes “intellectual property rights’’ that include any profits paid to her or any friend or family member for her story about life with Bulger.
Tim Connors, whose father, Edward Connors, was shot to death, allegedly by Bulger in 1975, did not fault prosecutors for striking the deal.
“Of course I wish that she would get a hundred years and live to serve those hundred years, but I also understand there are [sentencing] guidelines and restrictions and they did the best that they could considering the circumstances,’’ Connors said.
But Patricia Donahue, who was left to raise three young boys alone after her husband Michael’s slaying, said she was unhappy with Greig’s deal, which comes after deals that allowed some of Bulger’s associates to go free after testifying they were involved in killing people and burying bodies.
“I just think there’s been so many deals and everybody is walking around,’’ Patricia Donahue said. “She will not have to testify against Whitey Bulger.’’
Donahue said she felt Greig had been treated too sympathetically. “She’s not a victim. She’s a criminal and she should’ve been treated as such.’’
Greig’s lawyer, Reddington, has argued in court that her only crime was falling in love with Bulger and that she had no knowledge of any of his crimes.
Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.