The loyal protégé who stood by James “Whitey” Bulger’s side for two decades took the stand against him Monday, nonchalantly describing how the gangster killed without remorse, handled kilos of cocaine, and routinely extorted thousands of dollars from anyone viewed as an easy target.
Bulger craned his neck to get a better view as Kevin J. Weeks, whom he had not seen in nearly 17 years, climbed into the witness box in US District Court in Boston.
“I was with him over 20 years,” Weeks, now 57, said in describing how he was working as a bouncer at Triple O’s, a South Boston tavern, in the mid-1970s, when Bulger recruited him, and soon they were spending their days together, driving around, collecting cash from bookmakers, and “sometimes I’d beat somebody up.”
The testimony of Weeks, who began cooperating with authorities after his arrest on racketeering charges in 1999 and then led investigators to the unmarked graves of three of Bulger’s alleged victims, is considered crucial to the government’s attempt to portray Bulger as a ruthless killer. He is set to return to the stand today.
In May 1982, Weeks said, he was tapped to participate in murder for the first time. He said he served as lookout after Bulger was tipped that Edward “Brian” Halloran, who was cooperating with the FBI and had implicated Bulger in several slayings, was spotted at a bar on South Boston’s waterfront.
Weeks testified that he parked at Anthony’s Pier 4, where he had a clear view of Halloran, nicknamed Balloon Head, sitting in the bar across the street. When Halloran rose to leave, Weeks said he radioed Bulger by walkie-talkie: “The balloon is rising.”
Bulger, wearing a fake floppy mustache, was parked nearby in a souped-up 1975 Chevy Malibu with another man, wearing a mask, Weeks said.
When Halloran climbed into a blue Datsun driven by Michael Donahue, an unintended target who was giving Halloran a ride home, Bulger pulled alongside, yelled “Brian!” then started shooting at the car, Weeks said.
“There were a lot of people there, they were diving, running around, they were screaming,” said Weeks, adding that Halloran fled the car and began moving toward Bulger, who kept firing at him. “His body was bouncing off the ground.”
That night, Weeks said, Bulger recounted the slayings over dinner with another partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, who “was upset he wasn’t there.” The next day, the trio inspected the bullet-riddled car at a Boston tow lot, Weeks said.
During questioning by Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly, Weeks said he did not know the identity of Bulger’s masked accomplice. “I thought it was Pat Nee,” said Weeks. However, he added it could have been another associate, James “the Weasel” Mantville, who later boasted, “We finally got him.”
Mantville is dead. Nee has never been charged with the slayings.
Weeks has previously testified about the shooting and other criminal activity in a handful of criminal and civil cases related to Bulger. He served five years in prison after pleading guilty to assisting Bulger in five killings.
Donahue’s widow, Patricia, and her three sons, sat in the spectator section of the courtroom, visibly shaken during Weeks’s testimony,
“They murdered two people like it was nothing,” Donahue’s son, Tom, said outside the courthouse, a few blocks from where his father was slain. “I think he’s a liar in so many ways. He knows exactly who was in the car with Whitey that killed my father, and I think they’ve been protecting him since day one.”
While the Donahues hope to see Bulger convicted, they also say they are relying on Bulger’s lawyers to expose the identity of the second gunman.
Prosecutors say Bulger, 83, who was arrested in Santa Monica, Calif., two years ago after 16 years on the run, participated in 19 killings. Their sweeping federal racketereering indictment also charges him in dozens of extortions, money laundering, and stockpiling guns.
Bulger spent years cultivating a reputation as a Robin Hood-type gangster who kept drugs out of South Boston, but Weeks testified that Bulger was actively involved in importing cocaine into his hometown.
In the 1980s, Weeks said, Bulger arranged for Charlestown drug dealer Joseph Murray to deliver two silver tool boxes, each stuffed with 13 kilos of cocaine, to Weeks. Later, when Murray wanted to quit the drug business, Weeks said, Bulger demanded a “severance package,” and Murray obliged, paying Bulger $500,000. Weeks said Bulger gave him $90,000.
On another occasion, Weeks testified, he and Bulger delivered two kilos of cocaine to Hobart Willis, a local drug dealer, at a South Boston housing development. When Willis incurred the wrath of local Mafia members by calling them “guineas,” according to Weeks, Bulger forced him to pay a $250,000 fine.
At Bulger’s behest, Weeks said, he extorted another South Boston drug dealer, John “Red” Shea. Weeks said he threatened Shea with a replica Uzi machine gun that had been a gift to Bulger from disgraced former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr.
Weeks also detailed a dizzying number of shakedowns that netted huge profits for Bulger and his crew. Weeks testified that after Boston businessman John Callahan was killed in Florida in 1982, allegedly by Bulger and his associates, Bulger summoned Callahan’s business partner, Michael Solimando, to a meeting at Triple O’s and said Callahan had some of their money stashed in Swiss bank accounts.
Bulger pointed a machine gun at Solimando, a body builder, and said, “Your muscles aren’t going to do you any good now,” Weeks said. Solimando later delivered $480,000 to Bulger’s crew, Weeks said.
“It was a crime of opportunity,” said Weeks, telling jurors that Callahan did not owe them money.
There were other big payouts, including $200,000 from a Quincy developer who got into a land dispute with Weeks and $25,000 from a South Boston realtor.
Weeks also told jurors that he, Bulger, and Flemmi forced Stephen Rakes to sell them his South Boston liquor store in 1984 and used it to launder money, a scheme that constitutes many of the extortion and money-laundering counts in Bulger’s indictment. Weeks said Rakes initially offered to sell them his store for $100,000, then changed his mind when Weeks, Bulger, and Flemmi showed up at his home with the cash.
“He was trying to shake us down,” Weeks said, adding that Rakes seemed to be demanding more money.
Weeks said he put a gun on the table and Rakes’s young daughter, who was sitting on Bulger’s lap, reached for it. Bulger pushed the gun away, but told Rakes, “We had a deal,” Weeks said.
Weeks said they agreed to pay Rakes $120,000, but did not pay the full amount. Later, Bulger used the store as his headquarters and put himself, Flemmi, and Weeks on the payroll to make it appear that they received legitimate income, Weeks said.
Rakes glared at Weeks during his testimony, and later said outside the courthouse, “My liquor store was never for sale.”
Rakes, who owned the store with his wife, was prosecuted for perjury after he denied that Bulger had extorted him. He agreed to cooperate with authorities and received probation.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.