Saturday, 2:15 PM
Retired FBI agents say they never took payoffs from Bulger, Flemmi
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff
MIAMI -- A retired FBI agent testified today that he never took payoffs or gifts from longtime FBI informants James "Whitey" Bulger or Stephen "The Rifleman'' Flemmi, but that one time he did accept a Christmas gift from an informant who was a member of the Mafia.
John J. Connolly
Michael J. Buckley, who retired from the FBI five years ago, denied earlier testimony from Flemmi that he was given cash at Christmastime during the 1980s from Bulger and Flemmi. He said he never took any payoffs or gifts from the gangsters or their handler, former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr., who is on trial for murder.
But Buckley said he was meeting with a Mafia informant in the 1990s when the man's stepdaughter, who was about 5 years old, unexpectedly "handed me this gift box and said, 'This is from me and my Daddy,' "
"I didn't have the heart not to take it from her because the little girl handed it to me and I was showing a sign of trust with the informant,'' said Buckley, adding that a sweater that cost about $30 was tucked inside the box. "I accepted it because she handed it to me and it was a gesture of kindness. I didn't see any other reason behind it. There was no favor. There was no quid pro quo."
Buckley said agents aren't supposed to accept gifts so he later reported it to his superiors.
The defense called Buckley to the stand in an effort to challenge the credibility of Flemmi, one of the prosecution's key witnesses against Connolly, who is charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the 1982 slaying of Boston business consultant John B. Callahan.
Flemmi testified last month that Connolly warned him and Bulger that the FBI planned to question Callahan and he would likely implicate the gangsters in the 1981 slaying of a Tulsa businessman. Hitman-turned-government witness John Martorano has testified that, as a result of the tip, he lured Callahan to Florida and killed him.
Flemmi told the Florida jury that Connolly took $235,000 in payoffs from him and Bulger over a decade and once joked, "Hey, I'm one of the gang.'' Flemmi said he and Bulger also gave cash to four other agents, including Buckley. All of the others have denied taking payoffs and have never been charged.
Though Connolly is only on trial for Callahan's murder, the prosecution has been allowed to present a mountain of additional evidence in an effort to show that Connolly had a corrupt relationship with Bulger and Flemmi.
Buckley, who was called by the defense, testified that in the late 1980s Connolly invited him to a dinner with Bulger and Flemmi because he wanted them to meet in case Connolly retired and Buckley might be asked to step in as handler for the two prized informants.
The two gangsters brought wine to the dinner, which was hosted at the home of another FBI agent, Nicholas Gianturco, whose small children were home at the time, Buckley said.
"It was Bulger telling war stories,'' said Buckley, recalling that they talked about sports, women, and Bulger's encounter with former New England Mafia underboss Gennaro "Jerry'' Angiulo.
"It was kind of just friendly chatter,'' Buckley said. "The meeting wasn't designed, and it did not turn into, a session of interview or intelligence gathering. It was just a BS session.''
Under cross-examination, Buckley conceded that he never invited informants to dinner at his home because he didn't want them there with his wife or children. However, he insisted "it made sense'' to him at the time because Bulger and Flemmi were able to park in a garage attached to Gianturco's home and walk inside without being seen from the street.
Although Buckley was among a team of FBI agents who worked on the federal racketeering case that toppled Angiulo and his top lieutenants in 1986, he testified that he didn't recall tapes played during the trial in which mobsters bragged that Bulger and Flemmi were killers who would kill anyone the Mafia wanted.
"I honestly don't recall that,'' Buckley said. "I knew they were criminals, but I didn't become familiar with how violent they were, what they were involved in, until the 1990s.''
During cross-examination, Buckley admitted that in 1993 -- three years after Connolly retired from the FBI -- Buckley told Connolly that William Ierardi, who was in jail on drug charges at the time, had told the FBI that Bulger and Flemmi were involved in the so-called Blackfriar's massacre. Buckley said he told Connolly that Ierardi later admitted that he'd fabricated the involvement of Bulger and Flemmi in the unsolved massacre, in which five men were executed in 1978 at a Boston bar.
"Did you think you might be jeopardizing Mr. Ierardi by telling John Connolly?" asked Fred Wyshak, a federal prosecutor from Boston who is assisting the state in the Florida prosecution.
"Not at all,'' said Buckley, adding that Ierardi was not an informant. He said he didn't know whether Connolly had relayed the information to Bulger or Flemmi.
In earlier testimony today, the defense called another retired FBI agent from Boston, Richard W. Baker, in an effort to refute claims that Connolly was living a flashy lifestyle in the 1980s that couldn't have been supported by his government paycheck.
Baker, who has been friends with Connolly since the early 1970s, testified that in the 1980s Connolly bought property in South Boston, Brewster, and Chatham, and that he was with him when he purchased a $46,000, 27-foot Sea Ray. But Baker disputed prosecution claims that Connolly's spending was excessive, telling jurors that many FBI agents owned boats, and that Connolly bought his Cape Cod property in areas that were still affordable at the time and didn't become upscale until much later.
When Connolly purchased his home at Thomas Park, located near the Dorchester Heights monument in South Boston, Baker said the area was "a blue-collar neighborhood, in a little bit of disrepair'' and that Connolly's two-family house "needed some cosmetic work. It needed some tender love and care.''
And in an apparent effort by the defense to refute an FBI analyst's claims that Connolly had let 10 uncashed paychecks pile up in his drawer in 1988, Baker testified that he generally accompanied Connolly to the bank on payday every two weeks and they cashed their checks together.
But Baker's credibility came under attack during cross-examination, when prosecutors grilled him about statements he made during a 1999 interview with two FBI agents who were investigating the FBI's handling of Bulger and Flemmi. Baker, who had no difficulty remembering details of incidents going back to the 1960s testified that he had no memory of being questioned by the FBI nine years ago.
"I don't remember being interviewed by them,'' Baker said. "If I was, I was in another world.''
Gianturco, also retired from the FBI, denied Flemmi's claim that he received cash payoffs from Flemmi and Bulger. However, he admitted that he exchanged Christmas gifts -- with Connolly acting as the middleman -- on a number of occasions in the 1980s. The gifts included a black briefcase, a bottle of cognac, and a Lladro vase.
When asked why he accepted the gifts, Gianturco said, "They were informants. Informants were important. You don't make organized crime cases without informants. They were giving us information about the Mafia.''
Gianturco added that presents "didn't mean anything. They weren't getting any information from me. They weren't getting any assistance from me. Again, they were informants. They were important, and it just didn't mean anything to me other than a Christmas present."
Gianturco, who became the informant coordinator for the FBI's Boston office in 1989, said he was unaware of any guidelines prohibiting agents from accepting gifts or from holding meetings in their homes. Gianturco acknowledged that he had several meetings at his home with Bulger, Flemmi, and Connolly in the 1980s.
Unlike Buckley, Gianturco said he never reported to his superiors that he had received gifts from Bulger and Flemmi. In hindsight, Gianturco said he probably should not have taken the gifts, but "at the time it didn't dawn on me it was probably something I shouldn't have done.''
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