When James “Whitey” Bulger, the infamous octogenarian Boston gangster, arrived at his new prison digs in West Virginia on Monday, he was probably tired from his long trip from a transit stop in Oklahoma, but he wouldn’t necessarily have been nervous.
It’s unclear whether US Bureau of Prisons officials who made the decision to transfer Bulger to the US Penitentiary Hazelton and place him in the prison’s general population, despite a recent spate of violence there and complaints of chronic understaffing, were aware that Bulger should have been concerned.
Lurking in those cell blocks were at least two organized crime figures from Massachusetts, one of whom, Fotios “Freddy” Geas, had a particular reason to dislike Bulger.
As the Globe reported Tuesday, Geas is one of the suspects whom authorities believe beat Bulger to death at the prison in Bruceton Mills, W.Va., on Tuesday morning, less than 24 hours after his arrival at the prison.
People who know Geas say he hated informants and, as a longtime informant for the FBI, Bulger would have earned his animus. But the animus may have been more personal: Geas, according to his former lawyer, believed that Bulger had helped frame one of his friends for murder.
Because Bureau of Prisons officials have refused to answer questions about Bulger’s murder, it remains unclear why the presence in Hazelton’s general population of Geas and at least one other Massachusetts organized crime figure, Paul Weadick, didn’t set off alarm bells that this was not a safe place for the elderly hood. Two months ago, Weadick and former New England Mafia boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme were sentenced in US District Court in Boston to life in prison for the 1993 murder of a South Boston nightclub owner. Weadick’s lawyer said Wednesday he is not a suspect in Bulger’s death.
Salemme hates Bulger and testified against Bulger’s corrupt FBI handler, John Connolly, who is serving a 40-year sentence for helping Bulger commit a murder.
Law enforcement sources say the possibility that Salemme might be sent to the Florida prison where Bulger had been held for about four years was among the myriad reasons Bulger was transferred out to Hazelton. Those sources said there was another factor behind the transfer: a series of incidents at the US Penitentiary Coleman II in Sumterville, Fla., culminating with a verbal exchange with a prison staff member who considered it threatening.
Those same law enforcement sources couldn’t explain why Bulger, who at 89 was in failing health and used a wheelchair, was not initially placed in isolation when he arrived at Hazelton, so prison officials could assess whether any of the other 1,277 inmates being held there posed a threat to him.
In a statement, Bulger’s former lawyer J.W. Carney Jr. blamed the Bureau of Prisons for Bulger receiving what amounted to “the death penalty.”
Geas had layers of possible motives to go after Bulger, if he did.
He was friendly with and served time at a Massachusetts prison with Frederick Weichel, who spent 36 years in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Weichel had long maintained that Bulger had helped frame him and had been reluctant to provide information that could help prove his innocence in the 1980 murder of Robert LaMonica in Braintree.
After years of refusing to help, and after his 2011 capture after spending 16 years on the run, Bulger finally supplied a series of letters to Weichel’s lawyers in 2013 that suggested another man killed LaMonica. However, Bulger refused to sign an affidavit or testify on Weichel’s behalf, as Weichel and his defense team had repeatedly requested.
Last year, after Weichel was released and a judge ordered a new trial in his case, prosecutors said they would not retry him for the murder. In an interview Wednesday, Weichel confirmed that he and Geas were friends. Weichel said he doesn’t think he talked to Geas about Bulger during their time together at the state prison in Shirley, but added, “I think everybody in the world knew that Whitey screwed me.”
Weichel said he was surprised that Bulger was moved to the same prison as Geas and Weadick.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a setup,” he said. “That’s a lot of coincidences there. I don’t believe in coincidences.”
Daniel D. Kelly, a Springfield lawyer who represented Geas and remains friendly with him, said Geas talked repeatedly about what he considered a miscarriage of justice in Weichel’s case.
“He referenced that [Weichel] was framed,” said Kelly.
Kelly said he had no idea whether Geas was involved in Bulger’s murder, but said the Globe report citing law enforcement officials saying that Geas wouldn’t identify the other person who helped in the attack on Bulger rang true.
“Freddie [Geas] was a standup guy, the last of the Mohicans,” said Kelly.
Geas is serving a life sentence for two murders, including the 2003 assassination of Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno, who led the Mafia in Springfield. Geas was ordered to arrange the assassination by Anthony Arillotta, the ambitious Mafia soldier who wanted to replace Bruno. Kelly said that even after Arillotta and the shooter agreed to testify against Geas, Geas refused an offer to cooperate that would reduce his sentence.
“He turned it down in two seconds flat,” said Kelly.
Attorney Mark W. Shea, who represents Weadick, said Weadick was not a suspect in Bulger’s murder. Shea thought it was “strange” that Weadick and Bulger both ended up at Hazelton within days of each other.
Shea said Weadick is appealing his conviction and had no motive to kill Bulger. Shea viewed Bulger’s slaying as “a despondent act of someone with nothing left to lose, and that’s not how I view Paul Weadick.”
In the first five years of a life sentence that Bulger had spent in federal prisons since his 2013 conviction for a litany of crimes including 11 murders, he apparently had little to fear.
He had been treated more as a celebrity than a pariah. Aside from an incident in 2014 at the US Penitentiary Tucson, where he received a minor scratch on his head when another inmate attacked him in his cell, Bulger appeared to have been left alone by other inmates, most of whom would rather pose for pictures with him than hurt him.
That did not stop Bulger from getting in trouble repeatedly. He was transferred from Arizona to Florida after he engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a prison psychologist. In 2015, he was placed in solitary confinement after prison officials accused him of masturbating in his cell, which is forbidden under prison rules.
No one is tracking the dark news from Hazelton more closely than Bulger’s victims.
Victor Davis, whose 26-year-old sister, Debra, was murdered, allegedly by Bulger and his sidekick Stephen Flemmi, said he took no solace in Bulger’s murder.
“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I think with the government and this case anything is possible,” he said. “But in this case, I think it was just a guy who wanted to be known as the guy who killed Whitey Bulger.”Kevin Cullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen. Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.