The myth that Whitey Bulger only killed other criminals died with Michael Donahue, an innocent man, 31 years ago on the waterfront, just down the street from where Whitey is on trial at the federal courthouse named after his old neighbor Joe Moakley.
The myth that Whitey would go out in a blaze of glory died two years ago on the oil-stained floor of a garage in Santa Monica, where Whitey spent 16 years hiding in plain view.
Scott Garriola, the FBI special agent who pointed his gun at Whitey on that unremarkable early summer afternoon, said Whitey ignored his demands to kneel down in the garage of the Princess Eugenia apartment complex two blocks from the Pacific Ocean.
Whitey had more guns in the walls of Apartment 303 than your average Walmart, but they were three floors away as Garriola and a trio of Los Angeles cops closed in on Whitey, their guns trained on the then 81-year-old fugitive, ordering him to kneel.
“He swore at us,” Garriola testified.
Funny but for a guy who wants you to believe he’s a cut above the average gangster, a well-read hood with a high IQ and vocabulary that would make puzzlemaster Will Shortz green with envy, Whitey swears a lot.
As Whitey revealed in letters that my colleague Shelley Murphy and I obtained last year, Whitey’s defiance wasn’t some Jimmy Cagney “come and get me copper” invitation to suicide-by-cop.
It wasn’t some manifestation of the legendary bravado, the old saw that Whitey would die before he would go back to prison. It was, in fact, considerably less melodramatic: Whitey didn’t want to stain his white Chinos.
“He told us he wouldn’t get down because there was grease on the ground,” Garriola said.
Whitey’s so vain, he probably thinks this song is about him.
That said, as soon as Whitey was pinched, he was nothing but a gentleman. He didn’t persist with the charade that he was Charlie Gasko. Maybe he sensed that, for all the corrupt and useless FBI agents from Boston he was used to dealing with, he was now — in Scott Garriola — confronting the real deal.
That’s how Garriola came across on the witness stand: a no-nonsense G-man.
After seven weeks of listening to testimony about corrupt and incompetent FBI agents, it was downright refreshing to listen to Garriola explain the last moments of Whitey Bulger’s freedom.
Garriola is in charge of the fugitive squad in Los Angeles, which is basically him and a bunch of LAPD cops. He’s made more than 1,000 arrests of assorted bums and hoodlums. But he was on vacation back in June 2011 when he heard from Rich Teahan, the FBI supervisor in charge of the Boston-based task force that for more than a decade had searched fruitlessly for Whitey. Teahan asked him to check out a tip.
“The first thing I did was get a baby sitter,” Garriola told the prosecutor, Zach Hafer.
Then he asked to speak to the woman in Iceland who called in the tip, Anna Bjornsdottir, an actress and former Miss Iceland, who had gotten to know Whitey and his girlfriend, Cathy Greig, because they took care of a stray cat in the Santa Monica neighborhood where she lived part of the year. She saw on CNN that the couple she knew as Charlie and Carol Gasko were wanted by the FBI.
Garriola set a surveillance at the apartment complex, and then he called Josh Bond, the Mississippian who was the apartment manager, asking him to meet at the hotel across the street. Bond was taking a nap and asked if it could wait. No, Garriola replied forcefully, it can’t.
As soon as Garriola showed Bond the photos, Bond covered his face with his hands.
“Those are my neighbors,” Bond said.
As reluctant as Bond was to come over in the first place, he got really hinky when asked to take part in a ruse to capture his neighbor Charlie. Up until then, he considered Charlie a too-chatty, overly friendly old guy who made him uncomfortable by giving him gifts, from beard trimmers to exercise equipment, aimed at improving his physical appearance.
Now he was being asked to help take down Whitey Bulger, a Top Ten fugitive wanted for 19 murders.
Bond had gone to Boston University and knew Charlie was hiding something when he told Bond, in a thick Boston accent, that he was from Chicago. But Bond could never have imagined what Charlie was really hiding.
Garriola began suggesting ruses they could run to lure Whitey out of the apartment, but Bond shot them down as unrealistic. As they spoke, Garriola noticed storage lockers in the apartment complex’s garage. He suggested they cut the lock to Whitey’s locker, then have Bond call Whitey and Cathy and tell them there was a break-in and that he was going to call the cops.
Garriola figured Whitey, as a Most Wanted fugitive, would not want cops coming out to sniff around and would come down to sort it out.
Garriola was right.
Once cuffed, Whitey played ball.
Whitey told Garriola where the guns and money were stashed in the walls. Turned out to be 30 guns, from a dainty Derringer to an A-15 military assault rifle, and a haul just short of $822,000.
Whitey told Garriola he was being cooperative in the hopes that the feds would cut Cathy some slack.
When Whitey signed the documents consenting to the search of his apartment, he stopped and said, “First time I’ve signed this name in a long time.”
As they catalogued a bevy of phony IDs Whitey had accumulated by hitting on the assorted substance abusers and mentally unstable people who wandered along the nearby waterfront, Garriola understood what he meant.
For all of Whitey’s literary pretense, his well-stocked library was mostly a collection of mob books, including ones about him. He used loaded guns as paperweights. He had more knives lying around the house than a chef at Benihana.
He also insisted to the FBI agents and cops that, for all his firepower, he had no intention of going out in a hail of gunfire. He said he didn’t want a stray bullet to hit anybody.
Awwwww. What a guy.
With something approaching a straight face, Whitey’s lawyer Jay Carney got up and tried to portray Whitey as a wonderful, civic-minded, selfless romantic who saved his neighbors from the prospect of a gunbattle and the FBI from the hassle of getting a search warrant, all the while trying to catch a break for his lover.
Get used to this nonsense. The prosecution rested on Friday and Whitey’s, ahem, defense begins Monday.