James "Whitey" Bulger's gold and diamond claddagh ring, his collection of hats and hoodies, and even the rat-shaped cup he used as a pencil holder could soon be sold to the highest bidder, according to federal authorities.
The US Marshals Service will auction off many of the items seized from Bulger's Santa Monica, Calif., apartment following his arrest two years ago, and the profits will be split among the families of the people who were murdered by Bulger, authorities said.
Federal prosecutors said the items that belonged to Bulger and his girlfriend are in storage in Massachusetts and are being appraised, with Bulger's bling believed to have the highest face value: the claddagh ring's estimated worth is $48,000, and his replica 1986 Stanley Cup championship ring is valued at about $3,000. But they said they have yet to decide whether it's appropriate, or tasteful, to cash in on the killer's notoriety by selling some of the miscellany, from his blue and white dinnerware to his sneakers, Asics, size 9.5.
There is also the boxing mannequin that Bulger donned with a hat and propped in the window of his third-floor apartment at 1012 Third St. to make it appear as if someone was keeping watch.There is a folding latrine shovel, binoculars, a telescope, camouflage clothing, 14 pairs of jeans, nine fedoras, 27 pairs of sunglasses, ceramic poodle salt and pepper shakers, assorted porcelain cats, a Bose radio, a 40-inch flat-screen Sony television, and hundreds of books, many with Bulger's handwritten notations scrawled in the margins.There's also a McCain/Palin campaign button and a God Bless America poster.
"The reality is there are lots of people who would be willing to pay money for some or all of the contents of that apartment, and that money is going to victims and victims' families. So we want to do what we can to get as much money as we can for them," First Assistant US Attorney Jack Pirozzolo said in a telephone interview.
However, Pirozzolo said authorities are concerned that some people may perceive it as glorifying Bulger if personal belongings of little value are included in the auction.
"He's a vicious person and a depraved killer, and that's not someone to be glorified," Pirozzolo said.
Two relatives of Bulger's victims said they supported the government's effort to get as much money as possible for the families.
"If they can sell anything he owned down to a ballpoint pen, then good luck to them," said Patricia Donahue, whose husband, Michael Donahue, was shot to death by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride home to a man who was targeted by Bulger. ""I'm sure the victims could use the money."
The US Marshals Service, which handles seized assets, has raised millions through auctions in the past for victims of crime, especially where notoriety boosted sales.
Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff's monogrammed velvet slippers were part of a lot that sold for $6,000 at a New York auction three years ago, while his unused boxers and socks sold for $1,700.
In another high-profile auction, the Marshals Service sold the belongings of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, netting $20,053 for the handwritten copy of his manifesto and $20,025 for the hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses he wore.
"It's difficult to tell what an item might sell for given the notoriety of a defendant," said Jason Wojdylo, chief inspector of the asset forfeiture division of the US Marshals Service.
In Bulger's case, Wojdylo said, "There is a fine line when you are dealing with victims like you are in this particular case . . .we don't want to cause any undue emotional distress."
Wojdylo said the US attorney's office will decide what to sell. Once the court approves the sale, it generally takes 30 to 60 days to schedule an auction, he said. The agency could conduct a live auction or an online auction, or do both simultaneously.
Bulger, 84, was convicted in August of participating in 11 murders, drug trafficking, extortion, and other crimes while running a sprawling criminal enterprise in Greater Boston from the 1970s through the 1990s and being protected by corrupt FBI agents.The former South Boston crime boss was sentenced Nov. 14 to two consecutive life terms in prison.
Donahue said she doesn't understand why anyone would want to buy something Bulger owned, but she added: "I don't care what they do with his things as long as he is out of the picture and in jail where he belongs."
Tim Connors, whose father, Dorchester tavern owner Edward Connors, was gunned down by Bulger in 1975, said it wouldn't offend him if everything Bulger owned was auctioned.
"They are trying to do the right thing, so I don't think it's insensitive," he said.
As for the rat-shaped pencil holder that was seized in Bulger's apartment, according to prosecutors, Connors predicted it would fetch a good price.
During Bulger's eight-week trial, the defense tried to refute Bulger's status as a longtime FBI informant, arguing that a corrupt agent fabricated the gangster's informant file.
Bulger, who fled just before his 1995 racketeering indictment in Boston, was arrested in June 2011 in Santa Monica, where he had lived in the same rent-controlled apartment for 15 years with his girlfriend, Catherine Greig.The FBI found $822,000 cash and 30 guns hidden in the apartment.
US District Judge Denise J. Casper ordered a $25.2 million forfeiture judgment against Bulger, which allows the government to seize all of his current and future assets — including any profit he might make by selling his life story — to satisfy the judgment.
At the time of his arrest, Bulger was working on a memoir, which was seized from his apartment. Agents also seizedholiday cards that Greig had written to Bulger.
Assistant US Attorney Mary B. Murrane said prosecutors have not made a decision on whether the cards would be offered at auction. She also said Bulger's memoir would not be auctioned, since it is part of the evidence in his case.Bulger has appealed his federal conviction and still faces murder charges in Oklahoma and Florida.
"We certainly need to keep anything that might be evidence in future cases,"Murrane said.
She said the government can go forward with the auction while Bulger's appeal is pending if the court issues an order allowing his belongings to be sold.The proceeds would be held in escrow until the appeal is decided.
The Marshals Service will not sell Bulger's gun collection. Wojdylo said forfeited guns are generally destroyed, but it's possible one of Bulger's firearms could be given to the Smithsonian Institution for display if it is deemed to have historical value.
"No decision has been made in that regard," Wojdylo said."We want to be very sensitive to the victims in this case."