Notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was sentenced today to two life sentences in prison plus five years by a federal judge who cited the lives that Bulger wrecked as he rampaged for decades through the city’s underworld under the protection of corrupt FBI agents.
“The testimony of human suffering that you and your associates inflicted on others was at times agonizing to hear and painful to watch,” said US District Court Judge Denise J. Casper, who recited, one by one, the names of the people Bulger murdered.
“The scope, the callousness, the depravity of your crimes, are almost unfathomable,” she said in the stillness of a courtroom filled with teary-eyed relatives of the killer’s victims.
Bulger, 84, was convicted earlier this year of charges that he participated in 11 murders, drug trafficking, racketeering, money laundering, extortion, and other crimes. Bulger fled Boston shortly before his 1995 racketeering indictment. One of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted — along with Osama bin Laden — he eluded a worldwide manhunt until he was captured in June 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif.
Bulger was able to operate with impunity for years as a prized informant for the FBI who had a cozy relationship with corrupt agents.
Showing no emotion, Bulger listened intently to Casper’s remarks and then stood, flanked by his lawyers, in his orange jail jumpsuit, for sentencing. He folded his hands in front of him halfway through the judge’s words.
“You are hereby committed to the Bureau of Prisons for the term of life,” the judge told him.
Tom Donahue, whose father, Michael, was an innocent bystander killed in 1982 by Bulger, said after the hearing, “It’s a good feeling. I never thought it would come. Finally, my dad can be at peace.”
“It’s the end and that’s good. Just that it’s over,” said Patrick Callahan, son of John Callahan, another 1982 victim of Bulger. “I’m glad he’s going away and can’t hurt anybody else.”
Casper also ordered Bulger to pay $19.5 million in restitution to his victims’ families. And she ordered him to forfeit $25.2 million to the government. The awards appeared to be largely symbolic because law enforcement has not uncovered anywhere near that amount of money stashed away by Bulger.
Noting the publicity that has been given to Bulger’s story in recent years, Casper said, “You have over time and in certain quarters become a face of this city. That is regrettable. You and others may be deluded into thinking that you represent this city, but you, sir, do not represent this city.”
Referring to the city’s response to the Boston Marathon bombings this year, Casper said, “This year, 2013, with all that’s happened in this city, the City of Boston, both tragic and triumphant, you and the horrible things that were recounted by your cohorts during the course of this trial do not and should not represent this city.”
Casper said she hardly knew where to begin in discussing Bulger’s crimes and that she had “struggled with what would ever be just punishment for the unfathomable harm that you have caused.”
Casper’s remarks took only about a half-hour. After a sidebar conference, Bulger hugged his lawyers before being led away in handcuffs. He did not look back or say a word.
Defense attorneys have said they plan to appeal. Attorney Hank Brennan said after the hearing that Bulger should have been able to present in court his claim that he had been given immunity for his crimes by a federal prosecutor.
“They wouldn’t let him. What are they afraid of?” he said. “The government, at some point, has to recognize their responsibility and be accountable.”
In August, jurors found that Bulger participated in 11 murders while operating a sprawling criminal enterprise from the 1970s into the 1990s that trafficked in cocaine and marijuana; extorted drug dealers, businessmen, and bookmakers; and corrupted FBI agents and other law enforcement officials. He was convicted of 31 counts of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, and weapons possession.
Jurors found that prosecutors proved Bulger participated in 11 of 19 murders he was accused of, including the strangulation of Deborah Hussey; the assassination of Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler; and the slayings of Edward Connors, Paul McGonagle, Thomas King, Richard Castucci, Edward “Brian” Halloran, Michael Donahue, John Callahan, Arthur “Bucky” Barrett, and John McIntyre.
But jurors found prosecutors failed to prove Bulger participated in seven additional murders: Michael Milano, Al Plummer, William O’Brien, James “Spike” O’Toole, Al Notarangeli, James Sousa, and Francis “Buddy” Leonard. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on whether Bulger was involved in the 1981 strangulation of another woman, Debra Davis.
Connie Leonard, daughter of Francis Leonard, was in the courtroom today and was disappointed for her father when Judge Casper only read the names of the 11 murder victims that the jury had linked to Bulger.
“When she read off the names, I felt hurt for [my father], but [Bulger’s] still going to prison for life, so I’ll take what I can get,” she said. “It’s over. He’s a maggot. Nobody will remember him for anything but a killer and a maggot.”
US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said Bulger “terrorized individuals who crossed his path, a path that was driven by his desire for power, for greed, and ambition.”
“We’re very grateful,” she said, that “honest and hard-working law enforcement doggedly pursued Mr. Bulger, pursued this case, and we have been able to bring him to justice today.”
Vincent Lisi, special agent in charge of the Boston FBI office, said, “I realize that the actions of a small percentage of law enforcement many years ago cost some people to lose faith and confidence in us. We will continue to move forward, and our job now is to make sure that we can regain the faith and confidence of those people who may have lost it years ago.”
Bulger operated in the shadows while he was in Boston. His legend grew after he fled the city, settling as a nondescript retiree in sunny, seaside Santa Monica — and revelations emerged that he had been an FBI informant.
His story inspired numerous books, movies, and TV shows, including the Oscar-winning “The Departed.” The parallel rise of his brother, William M. Bulger, to the presidency of the Massachusetts Senate and the presidency of the University of Massachusetts, heightened interest in the saga.
William Bulger was at his South Boston home this morning at the time of the sentencing. He peered from a second-story window when a Boston Globe reporter rang his bell but did not answer.
Relatives of James Bulger’s victims were given a chance to testify in court about the impact of his crimes on Wednesday. Bulger sat with his back to them even as they called him an evil rat and a coward, implored him to look at them, confessed to wanting to strangle him, blasted his corrupt relationship with the FBI, and vilified his brother. A defense lawyer said Bulger considered the trial a sham.
“These families ... many are still picking up the pieces in the wake of your horrific acts,” Casper said today, thanking the relatives for their testimony, putting their pain into words, on Wednesday.
As for Bulger’s claims of a sham trial, Casper said, “You can call it what you want, but in my humble estimation, you received the fair and full trial that every defendant in this country is entitled to.”
Bulger has been held at the Plymouth County House of Correction. He was expected to return there today and eventually be transferred to a federal prison. He also faces murder charges in Oklahoma and Florida, but it wasn’t immediately clear if prosecutors there would pursue their cases.