Saturday, 2:15 PM
Hitman Martorano describes killing Boston businessman
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff
MIAMI -- John Martorano, a hitman who has confessed to 20 killings, admitted today in a Miami court that one of his victims was John Callahan. He also testified that former FBI agent John Connolly had provided information that led to Callahan's death.
Martorano said he had been summoned to a meeting in New York in 1982 with the leaders of his Boston gang, James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, and there he was ordered to kill Callahan, a Boston businessman who had been his friend.
At the meeting, Martorano said, Bulger told him that Connolly had warned the gang that the FBI planned to pressure Callahan for information about an earlier slaying. Bulger told Martorano that the message from Connolly was that Callahan was "going to fold and we're all going to end up in jail for the rest of our lives if he doesn't hold up."
Connolly is accused of leaking information about Callahan to his longtime informants, Bulger and Flemmi. Prosecutors are trying Connolly on a murder charge because they allege that his tip led to the slaying of Callahan, whose bullet-riddled body was found in the trunk of his Cadillac at Miami International Airport.
Martorano looked tanned and wore a dark navy suit, crisp white shirt, and blue tie as he began his testimony today. When prosecutor Michael Von Zamft pointed at a poster-size photograph of the victim and asked, "Did you kill John Callahan?", Martorano matter-of-factly said, "Yes," showing no emotion.
After the New York meeting, Martorano said, he convinced Callahan to meet him in Florida. When Callahan arrived at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on July 31 or Aug. 1, 1982, Martorano said he picked him up in a conversion van.
"He got in the front seat, I got in the back seat... and shot him," Martorano said, adding, "I believe once, possibly twice.''
The next morning, while transferring the body to the trunk of Callahan's Cadillac, Martorano said, he and his accomplice, Joseph McDonald, thought they heard him moaning, so they shot him several more times.
Martorano said they dumped Callahan's Rolex watch and identification in Miami's Cuban section, at Flemmi's suggestion, so "it would look like it might have been drug-related. And Whitey and Stevie wanted to blame it on drug people.''
The eight-woman, seven-man jury stared solemnly, some with eyes widened, as Martorano coolly admitted to his killings and described the deal he cut with the government that allowed him to go free last year after serving just 12 years and two months in prison.
The hitman admitted he never met Connolly, and has only seen him in court.
Martorano also testified about the beginning of the relationship between Bulger and Connolly. He said that in 1975, Bulger came to him and other members of the Winter Hill gang and told them told them that his brother, William M. Bulger, then a Massachusetts state senator, had asked him to meet with Connolly, who was a friend of William Bulger's from growing up in South Boston.
"We said, 'Go be a good listener...see what he wants,''' said Martorano.
After meeting with Connolly, James Bulger reported back to the gang that the agent told him he wanted to help him because "he owed Billy Bulger a favor for helping him to go to college and stay on the straight and narrow, keep out of trouble," Martorano said.
He said the gang believed that James Bulger and Connolly came to an arrangement in which the agent would provide the gangster with information. However, Martorano said, the gang didn't know that Bulger was an informant who was providing the FBI information.
William Bulger, who rose to become Senate president and later the president of the University of Massachusetts, said at a 2003 congressional committee hearing that Connolly was a friend who grew up in the same South Boston housing development and had worked for him on political campaigns, but he had never asked Connolly or anyone else in law enforcement to protect his brother James, whose secretive life, he said, was largely unknown to him.
"Whatever was done by Connolly would not have been done at my urging," said William Bulger.
About a year after James Bulger's meeting with Connolly, according to Martorano, Bulger told the gang he'd been warned by Connolly that a Revere bookmaker, Richard Castucci, was secretly working as an FBI informant and Castucci had told agents where two fugitive Winter Hill gang members were hiding out in New York.
As a result, Martorano said, they lured Castucci to a Somerville apartment in December 1976 on the pretext of counting gambling profits.
"I went and got a gun and went down and shot him,'' Martorano said. "We ... put him in a sleeping bag, put him in the trunk of his car and sent it to Revere, outside of Boston."
Martorano also testified about his 1981 murder of Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler, saying he had done it at the request of Callahan, who had unsuccessfully tried to purchase from Wheeler a facility where people could gamble on jai alai. Callahan had been entangled with Bulger's gang for several years.
Explaining his plea deal, Martorano testified that if he lies, he could face life in prison.
"Are you presently today in custody?" asked Von Zamft, the prosecutor. "No,'' said Martorano, who has been a free man since March of last year. One juror's eyes widened; another shook her head.
Martorano said he decided to cooperate with the government after learning during lengthy federal court hearings in Boston that Bulger and Flemmi had been longtime FBI informants who had given information about Mafia members and members of their own gang.
"I wanted to put a stop to what was going on,'' Martorano said. "I had a lot of friends that I think they (Bulger and Flemmi) were going to hurt in the future and I was trying to stop that from happening.''
Before the jury arrived this morning, Connolly entered the courtroom wearing a dark suit coat and tan pants. He was greeted by his wife, Elizabeth, who was making her first appearance since the start of the trial.
"How are you?" said Elizabeth Connolly, a 48-year-old striking blonde, as she embraced her husband and kissed him on the cheek. The couple stood next to each other, separated by the wooden bar enclosure at the center of the courtroom, chatting amiably.
Connolly, 68, retired from the FBI in 1990 after 22 years. He was convicted of federal racketeering charges in Boston in 2002 for protecting Bulger and Flemmi from prosecution and is serving a 10-year federal prison term.
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