A former FBI supervisor admitted Friday that he lied on FBI reports, shared “purely social” dinners with James “Whitey” Bulger, and took bribes from the gangster, but he rejected defense arguments that Bulger was never an informant.
During his second day on the stand at Bulger’s racketeering trial in US District Court in Boston, John Morris, 67, appeared combative at times as a defense lawyer suggested Bulger never told the FBI anything useful, while paying Morris and other agents for confidential information.
“The truth is . . . Mr. Bulger was buying information, he wasn’t selling it,” said Henry Brennan, one of Bulger’s lawyers.
“He wasn’t buying information,” said Morris, who admitted pocketing bribes totaling $7,000 from Bulger and leaking information that may have led to murders. “I didn’t interpret any quid pro quo.”
Bulger, 83, who had been admonished Thursday after calling Morris “a [expletive] liar,” occasionally stared at Morris Friday, but remained quiet as he sat a few feet from him.
On his way into the courtroom after a recess, Bulger waved to his older sister, Jean Holland, who showed up at the trial for the first time since it began June 12. She sat in a row reserved for Bulger’s family, next to her brother John, who has attended nearly every day. Bulger’s brother William, former president of the Massachusetts Senate and the University of Massachusetts, has not attended the trial, though some of his children have.
The defendant, who was captured two years ago in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run, is charged in a sweeping federal racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders; extorting drug dealers, bookmakers, and businessmen; laundering money; and stockpiling guns.
While Bulger managed to elude capture for years after his January 1995 indictment, his partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, was not so lucky.
Morris testified Friday that he was working as second-in-command of the FBI’s Los Angeles office when he learned of the 1995 arrest of Flemmi, a longtime informant who was nearly always with Bulger for meetings with the FBI. The news was deeply unsettling.
“I was worried about everything surfacing,” said Morris, who had a massive heart attack after getting a threatening telephone call from the fugitive Bulger later that year. “I certainly did not want my bad behavior known in any way, shape, or form.”
As part of an effort to get his indictment dismissed, Flemmi claimed the FBI promised him and Bulger immunity for their crimes because they were informants against the Mafia. He also revealed that they had made payoffs to agents who leaked them information.
Morris quickly offered to cooperate with authorities and was granted immunity from prosecution.
Morris testified that agent John J. Connolly Jr. handled Bulger and Flemmi and introduced him to them, leading Morris to meet with the pair eight to 10 times during the 1980s. He admitted hosting dinners for Bulger, Flemmi, Connolly, and sometimes other agents at his Lexington home and his girlfriend’s Woburn apartment. He cooked and the gangsters brought wine. There were additional meetings, Morris said, at the South Boston homes of Bulger, Connolly, and Flemmi’s parents.
When pressed by Brennan, Morris initially testified that he couldn’t recall if Bulger provided substantive information during the dinners. But, confronted with his testimony during 1998 court hearings in Flemmi’s case, Morris conceded he had described the dinners as “purely social.”
Morris, however, said Bulger was an informant who routinely provided information to Connolly, and to Morris on a number of occasions by calling the FBI office and at meetings in a Boston hotel and a Cambridge parking lot. Connolly is serving a 40-year sentence for his 2008 conviction in the 1982 slaying of a Boston businessman in Florida.
The defense tried to bolster its argument that Connolly fabricated Bulger’s informant file by presenting reports that showed he credited Bulger with providing information about criminal activity, then filed reports saying nearly identical information came from a different informant.
But Morris said it wasn’t unusual to get the same information from more than one informant.
Morris also admitted that he and Connolly lied to FBI headquarters when they sent a report in 1982 saying they were closing out Flemmi as an informant because his name had surfaced during an investigation into the Mafia.
In fact, Morris said, Flemmi was closed because he was a suspect in the 1981 slaying of Roger Wheeler in Oklahoma and the 1982 slayings of Edward “Brian” Halloran and Michael Donahue in Boston.
Yet the FBI continued to list Bulger as an informant, though he, too, was listed as a suspect in those killings in the FBI’s files.
Morris admitted that he had warned Connolly that Halloran was cooperating against Bulger and Flemmi, and that Connolly had passed the information along to the gangsters, shortly before Halloran was slain.
But Morris testified Friday that he was not concerned that he could be prosecuted for murder.
“I felt I had no direct role in that,” Morris said, but he added he was “worried about how it would be interpreted.’’Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.