Federal prosecutors have for months unsuccessfully pressured James “Whitey” Bulger’s girlfriend, Catherine Greig, to testify before a grand jury investigating whether other people helped the notorious South Boston gangster during his 16 years as a fugitive.
On Tuesday, the government upped the stakes for Greig, 64, by obtaining a new indictment charging her with criminal contempt, which could keep her in prison for many more years if she is convicted.
The new charge comes after Greig refused to testify before the grand jury, despite being found in civil contempt last December and warned that for every day she stayed quiet, another day would be tagged onto the eight-year sentence she is already serving for helping Bulger evade capture.
“Catherine Greig has yet again failed to do the right thing,” Joseph R. Bonavolonta, the acting head of the FBI’s Boston office, said in a statement Tuesday. “Her refusal to testify has hindered the FBI’s efforts to seek justice for the victims of [Bulger’s] crimes.”
Greig’s attorney accused the government of vindictiveness and harassment for bringing the new charge. He and Greig’s sister said it’s wrong for the government to try to punish Greig more severely than some of Bulger’s underworld associates who were involved in brutal murders, but were granted leniency in exchange for cooperating with authorities.
“She knows nothing,” Greig’s twin sister, Margaret McCusker of South Boston, said during a brief telephone interview Tuesday. “There is no reason for her to talk to anybody because she doesn’t know anything.”
McCusker questioned the fairness of bringing a new charge against her sister, referring to plea deals that allowed one Bulger associate to walk free after serving only 12 years for 20 murders, and another to serve only five years in prison for being an accessory to five murders.
“My sister may eventually be spending as much time in prison for being with someone she loved as his associates who killed and/or buried people,” McCusker said. “That’s nuts.”
However, the widow of one of Bulger’s victims said she was happy the government was increasing pressure on Greig in an effort to track Bulger’s hidden assets and determine whether others helped the gangster elude a worldwide manhunt while he was a longtime fixture on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.
“I would like her to tell all,” said Patricia Donahue, whose husband, Michael, was shot to death by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride home to a friend being targeted by Bulger. “Tell exactly what went on when they were on the run. Where is his money?”
Attorney Kevin Reddington, who represents Greig, said her only crime was living with Bulger while he was a fugitive. He said she has repeatedly been brought back from a federal prison in Minnesota to appear before the grand jury in Boston even though she has said she has no information and will not testify.
“She has great respect for the court, but she does have contempt for the federal government for using its power to vindictive ends,” Reddington said. “She will not be a tool of the government’s efforts to further harass people, whether family or friends.”
US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement Tuesday the new indictment seeks to hold Greig accountable for refusing to comply with a judge’s order to testify.
“The grand jury is entitled to her testimony and flouting a federal court’s order has substantial consequences,” Ortiz said.
No date has been set for Greig’s arraignment on the new charge in federal court in Boston.
The one-count indictment says that US District Judge Denise J. Casper, who presided over Bulger’s 2013 racketeering trial, issued an order Nov. 20, 2014, compelling Greig to testify before the grand jury “regarding an investigation into third parties who assisted and harbored” Bulger while he was a fugitive from 1995 to 2011. It alleges that Greig willfully disobeyed the order from Dec. 9, 2014, to Sept. 22, 2015.
Greig did not cite her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, according to Reddington, who said Greig refused to testify because, “if it’s not what the government wants to hear you are going to get indicted for perjury.”
Reddington said he will seek a speedy trial on the new charge and “let a jury decide whether this is vindictiveness on the part of the government or an act of criminal contempt, which I don’t believe it is.”
Bulger, a longtime FBI informant who paid bribes to agents who leaked him information, was tipped to flee by a corrupt former FBI agent just before his 1995 indictment. Greig, a former dental hygienist who grew up in South Boston and began dating Bulger in the mid-1970s, joined him on the run in early 1995 after he dropped another longtime girlfriend off at home.
Bulger and Greig were arrested in June 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif., living in a rent-controlled apartment two blocks from the beach. FBI agents found $822,000 in cash and 30 guns hidden in the walls of their apartment.
Greig pleaded guilty in June 2012 to conspiracy to harbor a fugitive, conspiracy to commit identity fraud, and identity fraud. A federal appeals court later rejected her claim that her sentence was excessive, concluding that she helped Bulger evade detection by using false identities, purchasing his medications, running daily errands, and paying their bills. She is serving her sentence at a federal penitentiary in Waseca, Minn, where she trains service dogs.
Bulger, 86, is serving a life sentence at a federal penitentiary in Florida for participating in 11 murders while operating a sprawling criminal organization from the 1970s to the 1990s. He was ordered to forfeit $25.2 million to the government and prosecutors have vowed to track his assets and split them among the families of Bulger’s victims.
In letters from jail since his capture, Bulger described his time on the run with Greig as a 16-year honeymoon and complained about her stiff sentence.
“She did what all the cops, prisons, and courts couldn’t,” Bulger wrote to his longtime friend, Richard Sunday. “Got me to live crime free 16 years — for this they should give her a medal.”
Read the Greig indictment below: