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Former FBI agent central to Bulger case sentenced for lying

Former FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick was sentenced Friday for lying on the stand in the 2013 trial of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.
Former FBI agent Robert Fitzpatrick was sentenced Friday for lying on the stand in the 2013 trial of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff/file 2013

Robert Fitzpatrick, a former second-in-command of the FBI’s Boston office, and a central figure in the saga of James “Whitey” Bulger, was sentenced to two years of probation Friday for lying during the notorious gangster’s trial.

Fitzpatrick, who is 76, suffering from kidney disease, cancer, and diabetes, must also pay a $12,500 fine. His sentence was handed out in a roughly 15-minute, humdrum hearing, a flat punctuation to a noted career with the FBI.

“This is not a happy moment,” US District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV said. “Mr. Fitzpatrick has earned his punishment; he perhaps earned more. I don’t pretend to understand how he got into this position, but he is here; he admitted to the crime.”

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Fitzpatrick had faced 6 to 7 years in prison under sentencing guidelines, after pleading guilty in May to six counts of obstruction of justice and six counts of perjury. Government lawyers had agreed, though, that the sentence of probation was appropriate, given Fitzpatrick’s age and his health condition, while still serving as a punishment.

“It will promote respect for the rule of law and send a message . . . mainly that lying in federal court, especially by former law enforcement officials, will not be tolerated,” said Assistant US Attorney Zachary Hafer, who was also one of the prosecutors in Bulger’s case.

“The criminal justice system depends . . . on the truthfulness of witnesses who testify.”

Fitzpatrick did not address the court during his sentencing. His attorney, Robert Goldstein, said later that a sentence of no prison time was justified for a man who spent decades with the FBI. He would not comment on the government’s decision to file charges in the case, criticized by many who had followed the Bulger saga, but he said the acceptance of the plea agreement was the best outcome.

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“Bob has pleaded guilty, and given that, a sentence of probation was a fair and just sentence,” he said. “It’s a difficult day obviously, but I’m happy for him, his family, they have closure, finality, through a very difficult and long process. They’re able to move forward and he is moving forward.”

Fitzpatrick had been an outspoken critic of the FBI’s handling of Bulger since it was publicly acknowledged by the agency in the late 1990s that the gangster was a longtime informant and it was revealed that he got away with murder while being protected from prosecution by corrupt agents. He testified on behalf of the families of several of Bulger’s victims in wrongful death suits against the government, and coauthored a 2012 book: “Betrayal, Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent who Fought to Bring Him Down.”

But he admitted to exaggerating his accomplishments and lying about his relationship with Bulger when he testified during the gangster’s 2013 trial. He was called as a defense witness and testified that he tried in vain to end the FBI’s relationship with Bulger, part of the defense team’s attempt to prove that Bulger was not a worthwhile informant.

Prosecutors said it was a lie, and that Fitzpatrick knowingly made false statements “to enhance his credibility on the key issue of Bulger’s defense — FBI corruption and government misconduct.”

They say he lied when he told jurors he was given a special mission to uncover corruption in the Boston office, that Bulger insisted he wasn’t an informant when they first met in 1981, and that he urged his superiors to drop Bulger as an informant in 1982.

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Fitzpatrick also lied about his own accomplishments, falsely claiming that he personally arrested Boston underboss Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo, and that he found the rifle that James Earl Ray used to kill Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Before his sentencing, several family members and supporters had written to Saylor on Fitzpatrick’s behalf, saying his conviction unfairly eclipses his true accomplishments working on those cases, as well as other historic cases such as the racially motivated bombings in Mississippi in the 1960s, and the Abscam political corruption probe in the 1970s.

“Bob was never afraid to speak up when he thought people abused their power! That was his nature, gutsy and honest,” Andrew Sloan, who worked alongside Fitzpatrick in the FBI’s Memphis office in the 1960s, had written to the judge.


Milton Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia