Two longtime associates of fugitive South Boston crime boss James J. "Whitey" Bulger were charged yesterday with shaking down drug dealers and bookmakers for "the Bulger Group" for the past 24 years and funneling nearly $90,000 into the gangster's bank account since he's been on the lam.
A 29-count federal indictment unsealed yesterday against Kevin J. Weeks, 43, and Kevin P. O'Neil, 51, both of Quincy, charges them with racketeering, money laundering, and extortion for a group led by Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi beginning around 1975 - the same year Bulger became an FBI informant. By then, Flemmi had been an FBI informant for a decade.
The Bulger group, and Weeks in particular, are also accused in the indictment of distributing cocaine and marijuana in South Boston from 1980 through 1990.
US Attorney Donald K. Stern described Weeks as the "operational chief" of the organization since Bulger fled in January 1995 to evade federal racketeering charges.
Noting that prosecutors have tried to make it difficult for the 70-year-old Bulger to remain a fugitive by seizing his bank accounts and property, Stern said this latest indictment targets "others who may have been assisting him."
After Weeks and O'Neil were arrested Wednesday afternoon by officials from the Massachusetts State Police Special Services Section, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service, one of the first questions posed by investigators was: Where's Whitey?
But if Weeks or O'Neil know, they aren't telling. Attorney Thomas E. Finnerty Sr., who represents Weeks, said, "He doesn't know where Jim Bulger is."
He dismissed the massive racketeering indictment as "nonsense."
"It's fiction," Finnerty said. "These guys are being charged with guilt by association. Anybody associated with Bulger is going to be tainted by that reputation."
Attorney Martin Weinberg, who represents O'Neil, left the US District Courthouse without comment.
Weeks, a muscular man dressed in jeans and a gray sweatshirt, chuckled when US Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler asked him if he could afford an attorney. "I'm working on it, your honor."
O'Neil, a large, heavyset man dressed in nylon sweatpants and a dark green jersey, owns a tavern, a liquor store, and real estate, and works as a builder. He said he could afford to hire his own lawyer.
Neither man has any prior criminal convictions.
Assistant US Attorney Samuel W. Buell said the government will seek to have Weeks and O'Neil held without bail pending trial on the grounds that they pose a danger to the community and may flee if released. Bowler scheduled a detention hearing for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
As he was led out of the courtroom, Weeks turned to a newspaper columnist and said, "Be nice. Be gentle."
The indictment alleges that Weeks delivered $10,000 in cash to confessed hitman-turned-government witness John Martorano in 1996, courtesy of Flemmi, to help with his legal expenses in a racketeering case.
Martorano is now cooperating against Flemmi and Bulger, having struck a deal with prosecutors after learning that Bulger and Flemmi betrayed him for years while secretly working as FBI informants.
Many of the charges against Weeks and O'Neil involve victims who first surfaced in the racketeering case against Bulger, Flemmi, reputed New England Mafia boss Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme, and Robert DeLuca.
Weeks and O'Neil are charged with extortion for allegedly forcing Stephen and Julie Rakes to sell them a liquor store in 1984.
The business, renamed the South Boston Liquor Mart, became the headquarters of Bulger's organization and is at the heart of a series of financial transactions that form the basis of money laundering charges against Weeks and O'Neil.
The indictment alleges that O'Neil and Weeks tried to disguise Bulger's interest in the liquor store and have used a realty trust to send monthly payments totalling more than $98,000 to a South Boston bank account held by Bulger. He purportedly holds the mortgage on the liquor store building.
Nearly $90,000 was deposited after Bulger became a fugitive, but authorities acknowledged yesterday that there's no proof Bulger ever withdrew the funds while on the lam.
The pair are also charged with extorting South Boston real estate agent Raymond Slinger, mortgage broker and former bar owner Tim Connolly; convicted drug dealers Paul Moore, John Cherry, Thomas Cahill, John "Red" Shea, and David Lindholm; and alleged bookmakers Richard O'Brien, Kevin Hayes, and Richard J. Johnson.
The most recent charge involves the 1994 extortion of Hayes, who was allegedly kidnapped by Weeks and forced to pay ransom.