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Former Boston agent arraigned in Okla.

TULSA, Okla. -- A former Boston FBI agent accused of aiding his former informants in a 1981 mob hit on an Oklahoma businessman was arraigned yesterday on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

H. Paul Rico, 78, appeared via video feed from the Tulsa County jail. He was seated in a wheelchair and wearing an orange jumpsuit, and said nothing during the proceeding in Tulsa County District Court.

Rico, who is being treated at a jailhouse medical center for a heart condition, occasionally moaned before the hearing began. His attorney said he is competent to stand trial but is ailing, and bail should be set so he can be treated.

But prosecutors said the question of whether Rico is competent to stand trial must be resolved before bail can be set. A competency hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, and a preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 9.

Rico was arrested Oct. 9 at his home in Florida and charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the slaying of Roger Wheeler, the owner of Florida-based World Jai Alai.

Wheeler was shot in the head after a round of golf at Tulsa's Southern Hills Country Club on May 27, 1981. Investigators say Rico, who was then retired from the FBI and serving as chief of security for World Jai Alai, provided Wheeler's schedule to his contacts in the mob so the hit could be carried out.

When prosecutors argued yesterday that Rico's arraignment should be delayed, Rico's attorney, Garvin Isaacs, erupted, saying Rico's health warranted an emergency bail hearing.

Rico wears a pacemaker and has lost 53 pounds, Isaacs said.

"Judge, this is an emergency. I am telling you this man is sick, extremely sick," Isaacs said.

Isaacs had requested a competency evaluation in December when Rico was being held in the Miami-Dade County Jail in Florida. He withdrew his request Monday, saying Rico understands the nature of the charges and can assist in his defense.

But Assistant District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said the competency issue must still be heard under Oklahoma law.

"We want to give Mr. Rico his day in court, but we want to follow the law," Kunzweiler said.

Investigators say Wheeler suspected that members of Boston's Winter Hill Gang were skimming money from the jai alai business.

As a top FBI agent in Boston, Rico had cultivated underworld informants, including Winter Hill gang member Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi.

Murder charges were filed in March 2001 against Flemmi and cohorts James "Whitey" Bulger and confessed hitman John Martorano. Martorano later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a 15-year prison term. Flemmi pleaded guilty in October to 10 murders, including Wheeler's. Bulger has been a fugitive since another FBI agent tipped him off to his pending indictment in 1995. He is on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list.

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