THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Lynch presses FBI on source

Lawmaker asks if rules on informants were followed

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / August 17, 2011

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US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, a Democrat from South Boston who participated in the congressional hearings eight years ago that investigated the FBI’s mishandling of organized crime informants, particularly James “Whitey’’ Bulger, has expressed concern with the FBI’s recent use of another violent gangster as an informant.

Lynch said in an interview yesterday that he has demanded a briefing from the FBI’s Washington offices on the guidelines the agency must follow in handling informants, particularly those with criminal histories. The request was granted and is being scheduled, he said.

The congressman, who participated in the hearings that led to widespread overhauls in FBI guidelines, said the briefing will help him gauge whether the FBI appropriately kept a relationship with reputed New England Mafia capo Mark Rossetti.

Rossetti is a suspect in six murders, law enforcement officials have told the Globe. He has been convicted of gun crimes and of robbing an armored vehicle, and last year he was charged by the State Police with running a sprawling criminal racket that included violence, extortion, and drug trafficking.

“I have some serious questions as to whether or not those guidelines were followed,’’ Lynch said. “It appears Rossetti was involved in some type [of way] in overseeing a rather widespread criminal enterprise, and so that should have become apparent to his handlers many months ago if he was being closely monitored.’’

Lynch added, “The timeline is very important here and also what was disclosed in terms of the activities of Mr. Rossetti and his associates. I’d like to drill down on that, hopefully in a way that doesn’t compromise the investigation but certainly gives guarantees to Congress that the guidelines are being followed.’’

The use of informants by law enforcement agencies has been allowed as a seedy but necessary tool in law enforcement, but the FBI has set up strict guidelines, particularly since the Bulger scandal. Among them, a handler is supposed to notify supervisors whenever an informant engages in violent crime, and that informant could be turned over to authorities for prosecution.

But the disclosure that Rossetti, reputedly a high-ranking Mafioso, was working with the FBI at the same that he was being targeted by the State Police raises questions about how closely the FBI was monitoring him, for how long, whether he provided useful information, and whether the bureau was aware of the extent of his alleged activities.

Rossetti, 52, was charged by state authorities last year with running a criminal enterprise involving drug trafficking, gambling, and loan sharking. But in the months before his initial arrest in May 2010, State Police recorded more than 40 conversations between Rossetti and his FBI handler through a court-approved wiretap on Rossetti’s FBI-issued phone, according to court documents.

The documents were filed by attorney Robert George on behalf of two lower-level players in Rossetti’s alleged crime ring as part of a legal strategy in their case. The documents do not mention Rossetti by name, but provide descriptions of the informant’s role that clearly identify him.

The State Police eventually notified the FBI that Rossetti had been heard on the wiretaps, but when remains unclear.

The FBI would not comment on the disclosure, citing the ongoing state investigation.

But Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the Boston office, and Massachusetts State Police Colonel Marian McGovern issued a joint statement last week saying that the FBI employees involved followed all guidelines and did not engage in any inappropriate activity.

The statement also said that the FBI was notified by the State Police of Rossetti’s criminal wrongdoing, and that it cooperated with the agency by continuing its association with Rossetti for strategic reasons, for fear it would make him suspicious and derail the investigation.

“When the individual was arrested, the FBI ceased its association with the individual,’’ the statement said, adding that the actions were coordinated with the US attorney’s office.

The FBI referred to the same statement when asked for comment yesterday, and a spokesman for the agency’s Washington offices said he would not comment on potential briefings between the agency and a congressman. A spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said the office does not discuss ongoing matters.

Stricter FBI guidelines were adopted a decade ago after the Boston bureau’s scandalous relationship with longtime informants and gangsters Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi was exposed, requiring more oversight of the agent-informant relationship.

Flemmi is serving a life sentence for 10 murders, and Bulger is awaiting trial on charges that he killed 19 people, many while he was an FBI informant. Bulger was arrested with his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, on June 22 in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years in hiding.

Jeffrey Denner, an attorney who represented the family of John McIntyre, an alleged Bulger victim who successfully sued the federal government for the FBI’s role in his death, said yesterday that the disclosure is a flashback to a time three decades ago when the State Police and the FBI had no communications about Flemmi, Bulger, and his handler, disgraced agent John Connolly. Connolly was convicted of racketeering and murder in connection with his relationship with Bulger and the slaying of John Callahan in Florida.

“Clearly this is reminiscent of the situation that existed in the Bulger, Flemmi, Connolly area with the top echelon [informant] program,’’ Denner said. “The FBI was protecting its top echelon informants while Massachusetts State Police and others were investigating them for what turned about to be criminal enterprises. It seems surprising to say the least. It seems surprising that this seems to be replicating itself to some extent.’’

Shelley Murphy of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.