Paul J. DeCologero, a member of a notorious North Shore organized crime group that robbed rival drug dealers and dismembered a teenage girl they feared might give them up, has emerged as a second suspect in the murder of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.
Federal authorities suspect that DeCologero and another Massachusetts organized crime figure, Fotios “Freddy” Geas, savagely beat Bulger to death in his cell with a padlock stuffed in a sock Tuesday morning, within 11 hours of Bulger’s arrival at the US Penitentiary Hazelton in West Virginia, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the matter.
Geas, 51, a Mafia hit man serving a life sentence for two murders, is from West Springfield, while DeCologero, 44, is from Lowell. Their criminal orbits never intersected, according to law enforcement authorities, but they became acquainted in prison. The Globe reported Geas’s suspected involvement on Tuesday.
DeCologero’s presence in the Hazelton prison, along with Geas and Paul Weadick, another Massachusetts organized crime figure serving a life sentence for murder, raises further questions about why US Bureau of Prisons officials did not place Bulger in isolation after his transfer from a prison in Florida until they could determine if any inmates in Hazelton posed a threat to Bulger’s safety. Instead, Bulger was immediately placed in general population, providing easy access to him by his killers.
DeCologero is serving a 25-year sentence for racketeering and the conspiracy that led to the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Aislin Silva of Medford. The so-called DeCologero Crew, headed by DeCologero’s uncle, Paul A. DeCologero, cut up and disposed of Silva’s body, which wasn’t found until 2006.
A lawyer who represented DeCologero on his appeal in 2015 said she was unaware that his name had surfaced in connection with the Bulger killing and declined to comment Thursday.
Those who know Geas, including his former lawyers and a private investigator who worked for him, said he harbored extreme hatred for informants like Bulger, and held Bulger responsible for helping to frame a friend for murder.
Paul J. DeCologero’s possible motive is not as obvious, according to the law enforcement sources, but like Geas his conviction was secured by former partners in crime who became government witnesses, including DeCologero’s father, John DeCologero.
Paul A. DeCologero ordered Silva’s murder after police seized guns that his crew had stashed at Silva’s apartment and he feared she might cooperate with authorities.
Paul J. DeCologero’s role in that conspiracy was to obtain an especially strong strain of heroin that was meant to kill Silva with an overdose. When that plan failed, another member of the crew, Kevin Meuse, killed her by breaking her neck. Members of the crew then dismembered her in a bathtub and disposed of her body in a makeshift grave somewhere in the woods of the North Shore and in a dumpster in Danvers.
Paul J. DeCologero suffered the indignity of watching his father become a government witness and testify against him. In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors described him as an integral member of the DeCologero crew operated by his uncle, “Big Paul.”
“Paul J. was one of Paul A.’s primary ‘foot soldiers,’ available at Paul A.’s ‘beck and call’ to be involved in drug dealing, robberies, burglaries, and ultimately, the killing of Aislin Silva,” prosecutors wrote.
But DeCologero’s lawyer argued that he was not a leader in any of the criminal activity, was unarmed while committing robberies, and his “criminality was driven or affected by his own drug addiction.”
“Paul J. was nothing more than a low-level drug dealer who was himself drug-addicted and who sometimes acted as a puppet for his dominant uncle,” defense attorney John Wall wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
“Paul J.’s involvement with his family’s life of crime and drug abuse was early and involuntary. Both of his parents were drug addicts and drug dealers. He was physically abused by his father and others. He saw his father physically abuse his mother” and “never had a positive role model or a support system of any kind.”
When DeCologero got into trouble at 15, a psychiatrist for the Department of Youth Services concluded he was “over-emotional and immature” and was “easily led,” according to court records. A doctor who examined him before he was sentenced in 2006 for the conspiracy to murder Silva said DeCologero was “at risk for being hasty and careless in the way he makes decisions.”
DeCologero appealed, but the US First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in 2015, noting that he had gone to a Lowell drug dealer asking for heroin “strong enough for an overdose,” and later returned to the dealer and complained that the heroin he had purchased earlier “wasn’t strong enough” to get someone “out of the way.”
Unlike Geas, who had little prospect of ever being released from prison, DeCologero has a release date of Aug. 30, 2026.
Law enforcement sources say that Geas has admitted he attacked Bulger, but claimed he acted alone. No charges have been brought.
It remains unclear how Geas and DeCologero knew Bulger had arrived at the prison just 11 hours before he was attacked.
Richard Heldreth, president of Local 420 of the Federation of Government Employees, which represents the officers at the Hazelton penitentiary, said he does not believe any of the correctional officers were given advance warning Bulger would be coming to the facility or that any were briefed on potential enemies who could be waiting for him.
“They didn’t know until he came in,” Heldreth said. “I haven’t heard of anything being said like, ‘Watch him. Make sure he stays away from that guy.’ ”
The penitentiary has become increasingly dangerous over the years, with staff cuts and attrition that have left the facility about 40 correctional officers short of the 450 Hazelton is authorized to have at the prison with 1,277 inmates. Secretaries, GED teachers, and plumbers and electricians at the prison have been given two-week training as fill-in corrections officers. On any given day, there will be 10 to 15 civilian employees acting as guards in the prison.
“It’s a very violent facility and it’s not a place that would be okay,” Heldreth said. “Just knowing what everybody knows about him from media, movies, and Wikipedia, it seemed very odd.”
Heldreth said employees and correctional officers he has talked to were amazed that Bulger was brought to Hazelton.
“Why did he come here in the first place and why was he put in general population? That’s the most burning question of all,” Heldreth said.
Heldreth said he does not believe there is a policy to put high-profile inmates in isolation or a separate unit away from general population, but believes it would have been common sense to keep Bulger separated.
Heldreth said two officers typically guard each unit and that the day Bulger was killed staffing was at normal levels. But he is trying to verify reports from prison staffers who have told him that morning the facility was short-staffed on counselors who are usually in the unit interacting with inmates.
For years, Heldreth said, he has been pushing the Bureau of Prisons to beef up the number of officers and staff in the penitentiary.
“It’s sad that it takes something like this” to get attention, he said. “I think it’s a failure of the system. . . . Our job is to protect [inmates]. I see it as a failure of our mission when things like this happen.”
Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report from West Virginia. Kevin Cullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen. Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com