Former FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick was the first witness called by James “Whitey” Bulger’s defense team, playing a crucial role as Bulger’s lawyers sought to poke holes in the government’s case by asserting corruption in the bureau and questioning Bulger’s role as an informant.
But federal prosecutors now say Fitzpatrick’s testimony was rife with fabrications, some that were integral to the case, and others that seemingly came out of nowhere — court records say he claimed to have found the rifle used to kill the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, for instance.
Bulger was ultimately convicted on 31 of 32 counts in a major racketeering case, and was found responsible for 11 murders. Fitzpatrick’s testimony, however, gained new relevance this week, as prosecutors announced his indictment on perjury and obstruction charges.
Fitzpatrick, who was retired at the time of the 1990s investigation that finally ensnared Bulger, had long been vocal about the case. He co-wrote a 2012 book about Bulger: “Betrayal: Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent Who Fought to Bring Him Down.”
Below, as laid out in a federal indictment, are some of the claims that led to the charges against Fitzpatrick.
1. Fitzpatrick had special instructions in Boston
According to his indictment, Fitzpatrick testified he sat down with a top FBI official when he began working in Boston for the bureau in the early 1980s. He said the agency wanted to stop “people inside the FBI and outside the FBI that were leaking information, causing a lot of the investigations to go south, in other words, to get corrupted.”
“I met with the Assistant Director... That’s about as high as you can go. I was given a sit-down by, I think, Roy McKinnon, I remember his name, and he basically told me they had problems up in Boston, major problems. He wasn’t specific, really didn’t outline the entire problem, but he said they were significant,’’ he testified.
The passage in bold is false, according to the indictment, because Fitzpatrick’s “transfer to Boston in 1980 was a routine reassignment and he received no special instructions from Assistant Director McKinnon.”
2. Bulger told Fitzpatrick he wasn’t an informant
At the trial, according to the indictment, Fitzpatrick described a conversation he had with Bulger. He claimed that he became concerned with some of the reputed mobster’s statements, including the contention that Bulger was the leader of the Winter Hill Gang.
“At one point, he even said he wasn’t an informant,’’ Fitzpatrick testified.
The indictment says the sentence in bold is false, because Bulger never denied being an informant when speaking with Fitzpatrick.
3. Fitzpatrick tried to ‘close’ Bulger as an informant.
The indictment cites several occasions in Fitzpatrick’s testimony where he suggests that he wanted to end Bulger’s work as an FBI informant.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m going to close him,’ that means you’re going to terminate him as an informant,’’ Fitzpatrick testified.
At another time, the document says, he was asked about negative feedback he’d gotten from Washington over his “common sense” proposal.
“There were some who didn’t like the fact that I was making that proposal, to close Bulger,” Fitzpatrick testified, according to the indictment.
That was not true, prosecutors said, because he never tried to terminate Bulger’s role as an informant.
4. Fitzpatrick faced retaliation
Speaking during the Bulger trial, Fitzpatrick said he decided to resign from the FBI because he had reported criminal activity by another agent, prosecutors say. He denied that he had been demoted because he falsified reports related to a shooting incident.
“That’s absolutely not true,” he said under oath.
According to the indictment, that statement was a lie.
5. Fitzpatrick arrested Jerry Angiulo
The arrest of North End mafia underboss Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo was a key piece of the story of Bulger’s cooperation with the FBI. The agents working with him said Bulger and his partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, helped the bureau build its case against Angiulo.
In court, officials said, Fitzpatrick claimed to have been the person who took Angiulo into custody.
“I did arrest Angiulo. I went to the table and put the arrest right on Angiulo,’’ he testified.
“That’s a total bald-face lie, isn’t it?” an attorney asked Fitzpatrick in court, the indictment said.
“No,” Fitzpatrick replied, “it’s not.”
Fitzpatrick did not arrest Angiulo and claiming he did was perjury, the indictment said.
6. Fitzpatrick found the gun used to kill Martin Luther King Jr.
Prosecutors say Fitzpatrick’s misstatements in the Bulger trial went even beyond the facts of that case. He told the court that he, not a group of three Memphis police officers, found the rifle used to murder Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis in 1968.
“I found the rifle when I was at the scene. I was the first FBI agent at the scene, and I found a rifle coming down the stairs, having just missed James Earl Ray, the shooter,’’ he testified.
Authorities say that wasn’t true, he wasn’t the first officer at the scene to take custody of the rifle.