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US House panel sees immunity for Bulger
Wants information on fugitive brother
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff, 4/2/2003
congressional committee announced yesterday it is pressing to give immunity to University of Massachusetts president William Bulger in a bid to force him to testify about his notorious fugitive brother, James "Whitey" Bulger.
US Representative Thomas M. Davis III, the new chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, said he'll ask the panel to vote Friday to confer immunity on both Bulger and former New England Mafia boss Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme, who is now a federally protected witness.
"The committee would like to receive information pertaining to Mr. Bulger's interaction with federal law enforcement officials and his knowledge of law enforcement's efforts to apprehend his fugitive brother, James Bulger," Davis, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement released last night.
An immunity order would compel Bulger to testify because he could no longer claim fear of prosecution for something he might say, according to committee members. The order would prohibit prosecutors from using any of Bulger's testimony to build a criminal case against him.
Justice Department prosecutors have agreed not to oppose the immunity request, paving the way for a speedy approval by both the committee and a federal judge, according to a committee spokesman.
"The committee shouldn't just walk away from a witness who may have important information that he refused to provide, asserting his Fifth Amendment rights," said David Marin. Davis is confident committee members will vote in favor of immunity for Bulger and Salemme, Marin said.
"Public confidence in government is strengthened by the knowledge that the committee is conducting a thorough investigation," he said. "The testimony of William Bulger is necessary to achieve that goal."
When asked yesterday if Bulger will testify if granted immunity, his lawyer, Thomas R. Kiley, said: "We have no intention to be uncooperative with the committee. We will have to wait and see what occurs with respect to the vote and what they have in mind." He declined to comment further.
A majority of the House committee's 44 members must be present to take a vote on immunity and if at least two-thirds approve, the panel will ask a federal judge in Washington to grant the order.
Two members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, Democrats Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston and John F. Tierney of Salem, who sit on the government reform committee, could not be reached last night about whether they will vote to immunize Bulger.
The move to immunize Bulger, 69, of South Boston, comes four months after he refused to testify before the same committee during a hearing in Boston, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, as well as due process and privacy rights.
It also comes as Bulger, a former state Senate president, is battling with Governor Mitt Romney to remain at the helm of UMass. Romney, who has said he was disappointed by Bulger's refusal to testify before Congress last year, has proposed eliminating Bulger's office as part of a budget-cutting plan.
The committee launched an investigation two years ago into the FBI's mishandling of informants, particularly in Boston.
Indiana Republican Dan Burton, who then chaired the committee, ordered the probe after a federal judge in Boston found that corrupt FBI agents had protected longtime informants Whitey Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi by leaking information to them and undermining investigations by state and federal law enforcement officials.
Whitey Bulger, one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted fugitives, has been charged with 19 murders, and Flemmi with 10. Their former FBI handler, John J. Connolly Jr., was sentenced to 10 years in prison last year for racketeering and obstructing efforts to prosecute his prized informants.
Committee members have said they want to question William Bulger about contact he has had with his brother since he fled in January 1995 to evade a federal racketeering indictment in Boston; what, if anything, he knows about his brother's relationship with the FBI; and whether he ever attempted to retaliate against law enforcement officials who targeted his brother.
They also said they want to ask the UMass president if he knew about safe deposit boxes in London and Dublin that his gangster brother used to hide cash and documents.
The Globe reported in January that William Bulger was listed as the contact person on the London safe deposit box and that bank officials called the university president's home in 1997 to report that the box was being moved, according to law enforcement officials.
The unidentified person who took the 1997 call advised the bank that James (Whitey) Bulger could not be located, according to officials. The box was not located until last October, when it was opened by the FBI and detectives from Scotland Yard who found $50,000 inside, according to officials.
It would not be the first time William Bulger has been granted immunity. Federal prosecutors immunized the university president to compel him to testify before a federal grand jury that was tracking his fugitive brother.
During his grand jury appearance on April 5, 2001, Bulger said he spoke to his brother once since he has been a fugitive, but felt no obligation to help authorities capture him, according to a transcript of the secret court proceedings obtained by the Globe.
Bulger, who was Senate president when he spoke to his brother during a prearranged telephone call at a friend's house in January 1995, said his brother was seeking legal advice. Bulger, a lawyer, said he didn't urge his brother to surrender to authorities "because I don't think it would be in his interest to do so."
Bulger later told the grand jury: "I do have an honest loyalty to my brother, and I care about him, and I know that that's not welcome news, but . . . it's my hope that I'm never helpful to anyone against him . . .."
Bulger was also questioned about his relationship with Connolly, the former FBI agent who grew up in the same South Boston housing development as the Bulgers.
According to the grand jury transcript, Bulger testified that he was friends with Connolly, but didn't know his brother was an FBI informant until it came "into the public realm."
The Globe reported in 1988 that Whitey Bulger was an informant. Then in 1997, it was revealed in federal court documents that he had been an FBI informant from 1975 through 1990.
After William Bulger's brief appearance before the committee on Dec. 6, Kiley said he had advised Bulger not to testify because he believed he was being targeted by authorities who wanted "revenge."
"If they cannot have one Bulger, we fear they will have another," said Kiley.
FOR THE RECORD