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Bulger checked for heart issue again

At 83, ‘exercise is over for me,’ he writes

James “Whitey” Bulger was quietly examined at a Plymouth hospital last week for an irregular heartbeat, raising questions about whether his recurring health problems will keep him from his long-anticipated trial in June.

Bulger, 83, wrote to a longtime friend last week that after being taken from the Plymouth County Correctional Facility by ambulance to a local hospital on Feb. 12, “Exercise is over for me.”

The gangster, who previously said that he had been doing more than 100 push-ups a day to stay fit while in isolation, wrote in his recent letter to Richard Sunday that he will miss ­doing exercise.


He has complained that since his capture in June 2011, he is only let out of his cell for an hour a day five days a week, is fed cold food through a slot in the door, and has no access to television or radio.

“Lots of time to think,” he wrote in the letter. “So far I’ve had a year and a half and a lifetime to go. This is the end of the trail for me.”

Sunday accused federal authorities of pretrial punishment and said the restrictive conditions of Bulger’s confinement are causing his health to deteriorate.

“I think what they’re doing to him is going to eventually kill him; that’s my worry,” ­Sunday said during a telephone interview with the Globe Wednesday from his home in a Pittsburgh suburb. “And that might be what they want; who knows? . . . I don’t think they are dealing fairly or humanely with him and that’s my concern.”

But Bulger’s lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., was not critical of the conditions under which his elderly client is being held.

“Sheriff [Joseph] McDonald and Superintendent [Brian] Gillen have been very professional in the pretrial detention of my client, an inmate in his 80s who presents particular ­issues, and they have been respon­sive to them,” Carney told the Globe Wednesday. “I am confident at this time that my client will be mentally and physically ready to begin trial on June 6.”


He declined to comment further on Bulger’s health.

Bulger, who was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 22, 2011 after more than 16 years on the run, is slated to stand trial in US District Court in Boston in June on a sweeping federal racketeering indictment that alleges that he participated in 19 murders.

Bulger’s trip to Jordan ­Hospital in Plymouth last week marks at least the third time he has been taken from the jail to a hospital to be ­examined for chest pains or an irregular heartbeat. He was treated at Boston Medical Center in December 2011 and again in November 2012. On each occasion he was returned to the Plymouth jail, where he is being held in a high-security segregation unit and is not ­allowed to mingle with other inmates.

While he has always been a physical fitness buff, Bulger has for decades suffered from a common ailment that prompts him to take Atenolol, a beta blocker used to treat high blood pressure and improve blood flow to the heart.

A spokesman for the ­Plymouth County Sheriff’s Depart­ment declined to comment Wednesday on Bulger’s condition or treatment, referring calls to the US Marshals Service, which has a contract with the department to house defendants who have been ­ordered held without bail while awaiting trial on federal charges.


Deputy US Marshal Neil Sullivan, who was part of the FBI-led task force that captured Bulger and is now a spokesman for the Marshals Service in Boston, said he could not comment on Bulger’s health. However, he said the Plymouth jail is one of the top facilities used by the marshals and has housed hundreds of federal pretrial detainees.

“The Marshals Service has standards about certain things every jail has to have, and Plymouth county [jail] passes that inspection every year,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan added that defense lawyers may file a grievance with the court if they are ­unhappy with a defendant’s treatment.

There have not been any public filings by Bulger’s lawyers complaining about his treatment.

The son of one of Bulger’s alleged victims said Wednesday that he is eager to hear Bulger take the stand at his ­trial, but was unsympathetic to any hardship he may be facing in jail.

“I hope it’s horrible for him,” said Tom Donahue, whose father, Michael, was ­allegedly shot to death by ­Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride home to a man who was the intended target.

“There’s nothing you can do about his health; he’s old. If he’s going to die before we go to trial, well, there’s nothing we can do about it.’’

Still, Donahue said that he believes that Bulger, a longtime FBI informant, has plenty to say about FBI corruption and that he hopes Bulger lives to tell his story. “I’d like to see what does he know, who did he pay off,” he said.


Bulger insists he was not an FBI informant, despite the ­bureau’s acknowledgment that he was, and he says that a former federal prosecutor, who died in 2009, promised him immunity for all his crimes.

Sunday, who befriended Bulger when both were ­inmates at the Atlanta federal penitentiary and at the federal prison on Alcatraz in the 1950s and 1960s, said Bulger has yet to be convicted of anything and deserves basic amenities, like watching television, listening to a radio, and getting regular exercise.

In an earlier letter to ­Sunday, Whitey said, “Wish I was back on Alcatraz.”

Milton J. Valencia of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Shelley Murphy can be reached at