Former FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick portrayed himself for years as a whistle-blower who tried to end the agency’s corrupt relationship with notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.
It’s a story he repeated when testifying for the defense at Bulger’s 2013 trial — except there he embellished the tale, telling jurors that when he met Bulger in 1981 to determine whether the FBI should keep him on as an informant, the gangster stunned him by saying, “I’m not an informant.”
On Monday, Fitzpatrick admitted it was all a lie. Now 76 and in ailing health, Fitzpatrick took the stand in federal court in Boston and pleaded guilty to six counts of perjury and six counts of obstruction of justice for his testimony at Bulger’s trial.
“I am guilty,” said Fitzpatrick, who told the judge he takes medication for a kidney ailment, diabetes, and high blood pressure and asked the court for a hearing aid during the proceeding.
Under a plea agreement, the government recommended that Fitzpatrick be fined $12,500 and placed on probation for two years. If US District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV rejects the request for probation, then Fitzpatrick may withdraw his plea. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 5.
“It’s a sad day for Bob and his family,” Fitzpatrick’s attorney, Robert Goldstein, told reporters after the hearing. “Bob has done many great things in his career. He’s dedicated his life to making this country a better and safer place. He and his family are looking forward to putting this behind him.”
Fitzpatrick, of Charlestown, R.I., declined to comment as he left the courthouse. US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said Fitzpatrick’s guilty plea “makes clear that there are consequences to lying in federal court.”
Assistant US Attorney Zachary Hafer told the judge that the government was prepared to call numerous witnesses to prove that Fitzpatrick intentionally lied to enhance his own credibility and assist Bulger’s defense.
“He’s falsely holding himself as a whistle-blower who tried to end the FBI’s corrupt relationship with Bulger,” he said. “In fact, he thwarted efforts by agents under his command to investigate Bulger.”
Bulger, 86, is serving a life sentence at a federal penitentiary in Florida for participating in 11 murders while running a vast criminal organization from the 1970s to the 1990s. He had been one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted fugitives until he was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011 after more than 16 years on the run.
Fitzpatrick, who served as an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office from 1981 to 1986, emerged as an outspoken critic of the bureau as the Bulger saga unfolded. It was revealed during court proceedings and congressional hearings that Bulger and his sidekick, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, were longtime informants who got away with murder while being protected by corrupt FBI agents.
Fitzpatrick testified on behalf of the families of several of Bulger’s victims in wrongful death suits brought against the government. He appeared on “60 Minutes’’ and coauthored a 2012 book: “Betrayal, Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent Who Fought To Bring Him Down.”
Bulger’s lawyers called Fitzpatrick as a witness to detail corruption in the FBI and undermine evidence that Bulger was an informant.
On Monday, Fitzpatrick admitted he lied when he testified that he was given a special mission to uncover corruption in the Boston office; that he urged his superiors to drop Bulger as an informant in 1982; that Bulger personally told him he was not an informant; and that he was demoted as retaliation for reporting wrongdoing by his boss.
Fitzpatrick also admitted that he lied when he testified that he had found the rifle used to assassinate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis in 1968 and that he arrested then-New England Mafia underboss Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo in Boston in 1983. Fitzpatrick was in Memphis when King was killed, and transported the rifle to Washington, D.C., but the weapon was actually found by local police.
Hafer said Fitzpatrick was motivated by a desire to promote his book and increase sales. But Fitzpatrick did not agree with that assertion, according to his lawyer, or claims that he had thwarted efforts by other agents to target Bulger.