|Former FBI agent John Connolly was convicted of second-degree murder in a 1982 mob killing.|
Connolly colleagues press for his release
Say ex-FBI agent just did his job
MIAMI — More than 100 former FBI agents, including the one whose undercover work inspired the movie “Donnie Brasco,’’ are fighting for the release of a colleague convicted of corruption and of helping Boston’s Irish-American mob murder a South Florida gambling executive.
It’s a long shot, and maybe the last shot, for John Connolly, 70, who will spend the rest of his life in prison, barring a successful appeal.
The former FBI agents, who provided documents relating to the case to The Associated Press, say Connolly was prosecuted for essentially doing what his Justice Department superiors wanted: to secretly use mob bosses James “Whitey’’ Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi as informants against Italian-American gangsters in New England.
The retired agents have filed two petitions with Attorney General Eric Holder demanding the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Connolly’s prosecution, raising a grab-bag of claims spanning many years, some of which have been previously rejected by courts and aired in congressional hearings.
They include allegations of questionable tactics by prosecutors, evidence that a key witness lied during Connolly’s 2002 federal corruption trial, and contentions there was a rigged result in his 2008 Florida murder case.
“I’ve never seen them go after a gangster like they have John,’’ said former agent Joseph Pistone, whose infiltration of New York’s Bonanno and Colombo crime families as “Donnie Brasco’’ in the late 1970s was made into the 1997 film starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino.
“He was dedicated as an FBI agent,’’ Pistone said. “He got all kinds of commendations. All of a sudden he goes wrong? That’s kind of hard to believe.’’
Prosecutors said Connolly permitted Flemmi and Bulger, who ran the Winter Hill Gang, to commit crimes; accepted tens of thousands of dollars and other favors from them; tipped them about a pending indictment; and passed them sensitive information about snitches in gang ranks, leading to several murders.
Connolly was convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
In Miami, Connolly was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1982 killing by a mob hit man of John Callahan, the gang-connected president of World Jai-Alai. Connolly was accused of tipping Flemmi and Bulger that Callahan was likely to testify against them in another slaying.
So far, the Justice Department has refused to act on the former agents’ complaints, citing Connolly’s ongoing appeals of his Florida murder conviction.
They are pressing Holder to act, particularly with Connolly staring an additional 40-year prison sentence in the Florida case that would begin as soon as his federal term ends in June.
Prosecutors said Connolly is grasping at straws.
“Connolly had his trial. He got convicted. They attacked it with new evidence, and they lost that one, too,’’ said Michael Von Zamft, an assistant state attorney in Miami who helped prosecute Connolly in the Florida case. “The concept that he is this innocent guy is just ridiculous.’’