Saturday, 2:15 PM
Judge testifies Connolly helped decimate the Mafia
(AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)
Federal Judge Edward Harrington testified today in Miami.
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff
MIAMI -- A federal judge from Boston told a jury today that retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr.'s crime fighting efforts against organized crime in the 1980s helped decimate the New England Mafia.
John J. Connolly
"It was without parallel,'' said US District Senior Judge Edward F. Harrington, who was the first defense witness in Connolly's state murder trial.
"Well, John Connolly had great ability and he had a certain flair that attracted a confidence and trust with underworld figures,'' said Harrington, who served as US Attorney in Massachusetts from 1977 to 1981. "And he had several top-echelon underworld figures that he handled who provided the federal government with enormous and critical intelligence which was the basis for successful prosecutions."
Connolly's relationship with two of those informants, James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, is at the heart of his murder trial in Florida.
The 68-year-old Connolly, who retired from the FBI in 1990 after 22 years, is accused of murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the 1982 slaying of Boston business consultant John B. Callahan. Connolly is accused of warning Bulger and Flemmi that Callahan was being sought for questioning by the FBI and would likely implicate the gangsters in the 1981 slaying of a Tulsa businessman.
Hitman-turned-government-witness John Martorano testified earlier in the trial that at Flemmi's and Bulger's urging he lured Callahan to Florida and killed him. Callahan's bullet-riddled body was found Aug. 2, 1982, in the trunk of his Cadillac at Miami International Airport.
The prosecution, which rested its case last week after 17 days of testimony, has hinged much of its case on Flemmi, who described Connolly as a corrupt agent. Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders, claimed Connolly routinely leaked confidential information to him and Bulger and took payoffs totalling $235,000 from them.
Harrington offered a different portrait of Connolly as an accomplished FBI agent whose ability to gain the trust of some of Boston's most notorious underworld figures helped federal authorities gather information that brought down the local mob.
He credited Connolly with getting information from informants -- including Bulger and Flemmi -- that allowed the FBI to plant bugs in 1981 in the Prince Street headquarters in Boston's North End of Gennaro "Jerry" Angiulo, the New England Mafia underboss who controlled the rackets in Boston. It marked the first time the inner sanctum of the mob in Boston was infiltrated, and led to waves of prosecutions and convictions of Angiulo and his top capos.
Harrington, who was a member of a select team of prosecutors that launched an attack on the Mafia in the 1960s when the late Robert F. Kennedy was attorney general, described the Mafia as the "most powerful criminal organization that's ever been fashioned'' and the FBI's top priority from the 1960s to the 1980s.
By contrast, he said, Bulger didn't compare to the Mafia.
"There is no doubt he was a vicious gangster, but his influence was not as magnified as it's been in recent years,'' Harrington said. "I'd say he was a local hoodlum who controlled, I think, South Boston, but he was not in the same rank as the Mafia organization."
When pressed on cross-examination about whether Bulger seized control after Angiulo and his underlings were convicted in 1986, Harrington said, "After the mob went down there were many disparate criminal groups within the city."
Flemmi testified previously that he and Bulger routinely swapped Christmas gifts with a number of agents in the Boston office, handed out cash payoffs, and gave cases of wine and bribes to disgraced former FBI supervisor John Morris. Morris acknowledged taking money and gifts from the gangsters.
During cross-examination today, Harrington acknowledged that it would be wrong for agents to take cash from informants, but he told jurors that accepting gifts, and even cases of wine, from informants might not be improper.
"In view of the fact that the confidential relationship between a handler and an informant is based on trust, confidence, and goodwill, I'm sure that depending on the circumstances and maybe the duration of the relationships, exchanges of some type of gifts of friendship at Christmas or at birthdays might not be improper,'' Harrington said.
When asked whether it was appropriate for agents to accept cases of wine from informants, Harrington said, "It might well be to foster that relationship. You've got to remember an informant is putting his life on the line and therefore an agent has to cultivate an informant's goodwill. A case of wine, that might pass muster. I'm not sure. I'm not an expert."
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