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Boston.com chat with the Globe's Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill

06/07/00

Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill chatted with Boston.com readers about "Whitey" Bulger and the New England Mob on June 7, 2000. Following is a transcript of the chat. Lehr and O'Neill are the authors of Black Mass: The Irish Mob, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal.


Moderator
Welcome to the chat room. Gerard O'Neill is here, and he'll be answering questions in a moment.

Black Mass
Gerry oneill here. our book has been out a week or so and we're into a 2d and 3d printing. we're happy to answer questions about how we started on this story and how we researched it.

Rick in North Andover, MA
I'm afraid I haven't read your book yet but I'm wondering what your opinion is on why the FBI hasn't been able to capture Whitey Bulger?????

Black Mass
Good question, rick. there is some concern about how hard the FBI is looking for Bulger, given that it's been five years and that his capture would mean more embarassment for the bureau. IF captured, Bulger could be expected to argue that he had the bureau's permission to commit crimes as one of their informants.

Roman
What exactly was FBI's true envolvement in the case?

Black Mass
Hey Roman: The FBI's true involvement is huge, and it's all in the book, which is, bottom line, a history of the FBI's ties to Bulger and Flemmi. In summary, a core of FBI agents provided cover for the rising crime bosses -- tipping them off to other investigations by other police agencies against them, tipping them off to the names of other informants who were ratting on them, and much more.

whitedog
what is your relationship to Whitey? How did you get your info?

whitedog
did you have someone from the inside fill you in on some of the details?

Black Mass
We have been researching the story about bulger and the FBI off and on since 1988. We got our infomration from police sources in the beginning and court documents from a year's worth of testimony in 1998.

JLoad
Is Whitey Still alive

Black Mass
jload: i believe he's still alive -- somewhere, out there. he's got cash stashed around, he's disciplined and he's used to traveling. there are some, however, who speculate that he's dead, but it's hard to believe that if that were true it would not have surfaced and become widely known. i believe he's out there.

PJ
When you came up with the idea for the book - where did you start your research and where you surprised at some of the findings you came across?

Black Mass
hi PJ. WE were most surprised when we got confirmation that whitey bulger was a protected FBI informant from FBI supervisor John Morris. It allowed us to pursue what was unthinkable at the time (in 1988)-- that whitey bulger, the ultimate stand up southie guy was really a police snitch.

friend
I went to high school with John McIntyre. So, I feel like I am a little vested. My question concerns the legal fund supposedly being funded by former FBI agents for John Connolly. Do you think there is any truth to it? I question the Globe's article because one supposed "venture capitalist" was described as a former FBI agent, and he was with the FBI for only about a year in the mid 70's. It made me think the whole thing was a scam. What do you think?

Black Mass
interesting question, friend, but i found the story fascinating in that he described a fund that was not a fund -- it reported that there were people out there trying to bluff others into donating to a fund. it revealed, to me, the smoke and mirrors that are part and parcel of the whole fbi/bulger affair....so the dance/spin goes on. for that reason, i think it was good the globe was reporting this sort of hustle on the street.

CALOGINAUD
Are you ever concerned about your safety, because other mob members might think you know where Whitey is, therefore helping them get to Whitey?

Black Mass
hi caologinaud. we don't think that gangsters would approach us to find Bulger. We don't know where he is and gangsters would use their own sources to hunt down bulger. but no one has had much luck finding him. he's been successfully on the lam for five years.

Black Mass
we were most concerned when we made the original revelation about bulger being an informant in 1988. we received veiled threats to our safety from an FBI agent who warned us about how dangerous bulger could be. it was more a threat than a friendly warning.

James
What does the Whitey Bulger scandal imply for exisiting Boston organized crime? Or is there even organized crime in Boston to speak of?

Black Mass
james, it's hard to measure the impact of the whitey scandal for existing boston organized crime. there is surely still organized crime in the region, but it seems to be a bit unorganized at present, a mix of leftover mafia and bulger gang members. sources say there's a lot of vying for turf and action between various factions. occasionally this erupts into violence and gets into the news.

joeleia
Did Whitey have pull in other cities or was he just a Boston figure?

Black Mass
hi joeleia. Whitey bulger operated exclusively in the boston area, though his long and lethal reach extended to Tulsa where a businessman that crossed him was murdered in 1981.

Charlie Knows Best
Have you guys worked on a screenplay or tried to sell the movie rights to your book?

Black Mass
charlie: we have not worked on a screenplay. the book's movie rights have, however, been optioned by Miramax. It's in their hands for now, whether it's going to be made into a movie.

Rusty
Has the FBI made any reforms to prohibit further corruption with handlers and informants?

Black Mass
Hi Rusty. Good Question. The department of justice has long had adequate rules for supervising informants and their criminal activities. The problem here was those rules were treated as nuisances by the street agents. They were ignored. The big reform will be uniform enforcement of the rules by supervisors who watch the relationships between agent and gangster closely.

reader
I am looking forward to the book--do you beleive that the FBI are not looking for Whitey are thoroughly as they would like the public to believe? And, I have heard that Connolly had a partner throughout most of his career. Is this true and if so did he have any involvement?

Black Mass
to reader: i think that today those charged with trying to catch whitey are earnestly doing so. that said, i also think there are agents, ex agents -- in particular, john connolly, who hope he is never caught. connolly has publicly said as much. so there seem to agents at cross purposes which might hamper the effort. on question number two: there were several other agents who belonged to connolly's circle, but i think the one you're referring to his connolly's supervisor, john morris, who already has confessed to extensive corruption, including taking bribes from whitey.

Tom Joad
I actually just ordered Black Mass... on Monday and have become extremely interested in the Southie "organized crime" faction since the Globe articles a few months ago. Can you recommend any other decent books regarding that topic?

Black Mass
tom joad: unfortunately i don't know of any others titles that get into southie organized crime. but there is a great memoir out by michael patrick mcdonald, title: all souls. it's his family's story, and parts of it involved whitey and southie's underworld.

Charlie Knows Best
Do you feel that John Connolly went too far with his involvement with Bulger & Flemmi?

Black Mass
hi Charlie. That's an understatement. Connolly now is under indictment for being part of a criminal racket with Bulger and Flemmi and the case is far f rom over.

Paul E.
Are you working on any similar books or current projects? I loved the book!!

Black Mass
Paul: glad you like the book, but, frankly, we in "recover" -- it's a lot of hard work pulling the book together. so, no, right now no new projects are planned.

Shane
Do you think Salemme has men looking for Bulger, or do you think the New England mafia has lost too much power? Along the same lines, how safe is Stephen Flemmi in prison?

Black Mass
shane: i have no idea if cadillac frank salemme and/or the mafia is hunting for whitey bulger. some speculate that they are. impossible to know. last i heard, flemmi had actually been moved into a more secure setting in prison in plymouth, mass, for his safety.

Dave
Does the book include any detail on his relationship with Billy Bulger his brother and high ranking official. Do you believe helped his brother out when possible?

Black Mass
hi dave. There is no evidence that bill bulger aided his brother in any criminal matters. HOwever, the book does deal with a problem bill had in the late 1980s when his law partner was accused of extorting $500,000 from a prominent real estate developer. Bill wound up with half the money but claimed he returned it as a loan when he discovered where it came from. The book reveals, however, that Bill Bulger actually kept the money. The full account of this is in Chapter 14 called "Shades of Whitey.''

howiewinter
How was whitey able to cultivate his "robin hood" image when you point out that he was far from a "friend to the neighborhood?" Did he actually perform acts of charity or was it merely a brilliant way to market himself so as to get the support of the people? I would imagine he would have had to perform at least some token acts of benevolence, correct?

Black Mass
hey howiewinter: a couple of reasons for the robin hood myth. first, yes, whitey was smart, like a pol, about helping out a family here and there. perhaps more important, however, was the local fbi office: agents like connolly helped to brainwash the city and the neighborhood about the bulger myth -- telling people in power, in the press etc that whitey was a robin hood figure, a good bad guy, that he hated drug and protected neighbrohood from them. all not true.

Moderator
Thanks for taking part in our chat with Gerard O'Neill and Dick Lehr. Their book, "Black Mass," is available at major outlets, including amazon.com, the Boston Globe Corner Bookstore, and local bookstores.

 KEY FIGURES
Whitey Bulger
Stephen Flemmi
Frank Salemme
Kevin Weeks
John Martorano
John Connolly
John Morris

 FEATURES
Photo gallery
Whitey sightings
Books on Whitey
Whitey chats
Whitey links on the Web

 GLOBE SPECIAL REPORTS
1 9 8 8
The Bulger mystique
A look at Boston's famous brothers, William and Whitey.

1 9 9 5
The story of Whitey's fall
How investigators brought down the elusive criminal.

1 9 9 8
Whitey & the FBI
The relationship between Bulger and Boston's law men.

1 9 9 8
Whitey's life on the run
The fugitive mobster's relentless travels across the country.

Complete list of reports

 GLOBE ARCHIVES

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