Last week, lawyers for the Bulger family filed notice with the Justice Department that they will sue the government to get to the bottom of why the South Boston underworld leader and killer James “Whitey” Bulger was murdered in a West Virginia federal penitentiary last year.
Hank Brennan and David Schoen indicated they will file suit under the category of wrongful death.
It could have just as easily be filed under the category of irony.
Because what is the righteous outrage over Whitey’s gruesome murder, so similar in motive and crude ferocity to the ones he committed, but ironic?
Whitey used the federal government as a Teflon shield so he could rake in millions, flood his neighborhood with drugs, and take out criminal enemies and potential informers with the support of various crooked elements in the FBI and the Justice Department.
And yet it was an arm of that Justice Department, the US Bureau of Prisons, which his family now holds responsible for his murder at the hands of inmates.
The Bulgers are demanding $200 million in compensation from the government, which is a bit rich — pushing irony right over the edge into farce — given that so many of Bulger’s victims received nothing after that same government contended they filed their wrongful death claims after the statute of limitations expired.
There is an understandable and irresistible temptation to say what goes around comes around, that Whitey Bulger lived by the sword and inevitably died by it, in his case, at the hands of another criminal wielding a padlock stuffed in a tube sock.
But there is every good reason for the Bulger family to push forward with their lawsuit and try to force the government to explain not only how and why an 89-year-old man in demonstrably failing health was suddenly and inexplicably declared rehabilitated enough to move to a prison where he would receive less expert medical care.
Far more needs to be exposed about how Bulger came to be sent to a prison where several inmates with Massachusetts roots had reason to harm or even kill him. It is almost ludicrous to think that Bulger was originally supposed to share a cell in the Hazelton penitentiary with Paul DeCologero, part of a Mafia-aligned group that murdered a Medford woman they feared would turn on them. DeCologero’s uncle claims that, back in the day, Bulger had a contract to kill members of the DeCologero family.
Bulger was recruited by his FBI handler John Connolly for the express purpose of informing on the Mafia. Bulger and his partner in crime, Steve Flemmi, were cited by the FBI as confidential informants whose inside intel was needed to obtain court authorization to wiretap the Boston Mafia.
That put them both, but especially Whitey, on the mob’s most-hated list; anybody who took out Bulger would be elevated to the Mafia hall of fame.
How anyone in the Bureau of Prisons thought it was appropriate to place Bulger anywhere near DeCologero and Freddy Geas, a Mafia hitman from Western Massachusetts, is beyond me. Geas is suspected of beating Bulger to death, and DeCologero is suspected of at least being with Geas when they entered Bulger’s cell 12 hours after the octogenerian gangster arrived at the federal prison.
Freddy Geas was serving two life sentences for murder only because his former associates testified against him, so he harbored an extreme hatred of informers. And, his lawyer told me, he was friendly with Fred Weichel, a man who was framed for murder and for whom Whitey refused to provide an affidavit that could have exonerated him.
You don’t have to sympathize with Whitey’s family to want their legal case to succeed, because it is the only way to really figure out if Whitey died because of sheer incompetence or pure malevolence on the government’s part.
Whitey Bulger was a high-profile, serial-killing sociopath, the focus of countless books. If the government was so careless with his life, what chance does everybody else in prison stand?
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.