A disgraced former FBI supervisor told a US District Court jury today that he panicked in 1995 when federal prosecutors arrested Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, out of fear that the member of the Winter Hill Gang would expose the FBI agent’s own crimes.
“I was worried about everything surfacing,” said John Morris, a former supervisor of the organized crime unit at the Boston FBI office who retired that same year. “I certainly did not want my bad behavior known in any way, shape or form.”
Morris, now 67, is testifying in the federal trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, who faces a sweeping federal racketeering indictment charging him with 19 murders. Prosecutors say Bulger, 83, was able to carry out crimes for so long because he was being protected by corrupt FBI handlers.
Bulger has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is being held without bail.
Under cross examination by Bulger’s lawyer Henry Brennan, Morris agreed that he only agreed to testify after he was granted immunity from prosecution, and Brennan suggested he was shaping his testimony for prosecutors. Morris has acknowledged that he took $7,000 in cash from Bulger, as well as other gifts such as boxes of wine. He left the area to work at FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va., in the early 1990s.
Morris acknowledged under questioning that he panicked when Flemmi, Bulger’s crime partner, was indicted in 1995 because Flemmi knew about the bribes. Bulger, who was tipped off to the indictments by another corrupt FBI agent, fled the area and wasn’t captured until 16 years later.
“You were concerned your secrets would no longer be secrets, weren’t you?” Brennan asked Morris.
Flemmi did disclose the bribes when he argued in the late 1990s that criminal charges against him should be dropped because he had been cooperating with the FBI for years. The argument, while unsuccessful, led to a series of hearings in 1998 that exposed the extent of Bulger and Flemmi’s relationship with the FBI.
During Flemmi’s prosecution, Morris testified that his subordinate FBI agent, John J. Connolly Jr., had cultivated Bulger as an informant, but that they had a corrupt relationship. Morris testified Thursday that he feared Connolly had provided information about other informants to Bulger that led to Bulger murdering them.
Today, Brennan suggested that Morris was only testifying to avoid prosecution for his own crimes, including his potential guilt in the murder of Brian Halloran, an informant, whom Bulger is accused of killing in 1982. Michael Donahue, an innocent bystander, was also killed in the shootout.
Morris said he had “no direct role” in their slayings, but worried how it could have been interpreted.
“I didn’t want to carry that burden anymore, I wanted to get out of it,” Morris said.
Morris acknowledged under cross examination that while he met Bulger 8 to 10 times, the meetings were partly social.
Bulger has argued he was not an informant.
“The truth is, Mr. Bulger was buying [information], he wasn’t selling, was he?” Brennan suggested.
Morris denied the suggestion.
During the hours-long cross examination today, Brennan submitted multiple reports that Connolly had written when he was an FBI agent in Boston. The reports, quoting informants, reported the same thing: Brennan argued that Connolly was putting Bulger’s name to the reports to make it look like he had interviewed the gangster.
Morris also denied Brennan’s suggestion that he had tipped off Bulger and Flemmi to a State Police investigation into their criminal activities. The State Police had planted a bug at the Lancaster Street garage where they were based, but the two gangsters became aware of the bug in the 1980
Brennan sugged that Morris had mocked a Boston police investigator when he told him, “If you got a bug in there, they know about it.”
“I wasn’t mocking him, I was giving him information I thought was important,” Morris said.Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.