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Boston.com chat with the Globe's Ralph Ranalli

08/29/01

Globe reporter Ralph Ranalli chatted with Boston.com readers about "Whitey" Bulger and the New England Mob on August 29, 2001. Following is a transcript of the chat. Ranalli is the author of Deadly Alliance: The FBI's Secret Partnership with the Mob.


Ralph Ranalli
Good morning.

Moderator
We're ready to get going....

Moderator
Send in your questions

Ralph Ranalli
I wrote Deadly Alliance to spur discussion about the FBI and the way the agency handles informants. If I can answer any questions or if you want to make a point, chime in.

Vito Corleone
do u think whitey is dead?

Ralph Ranalli
Hi Vito. No, I think he's still alive, hiding in middle America somewhere. I can't say the same about his travelling girlfriend, though. Given what we know about his history of violence with women, I fear for her safety.

JOSIE
HAVE U EVER MET WHITNEY?

Ralph Ranalli
No, but I have talked to other reporters who have, and it is a pretty scary experience. In the book, I tell the story of a guy named Paul Corsetti who wrote a story critical of Bulger. Whitey tracked him down in a bar and threatened to kill him and his daughter.

KC
Hello. I just read the review of your book and was wondering in what ways will it be different from Black Mass and the other existing coverage that I've read? This story is fascinating, and I've read all the Globe spotlight articles and Black Mass and would love more information or different perspectives.

Ralph Ranalli
The main difference is scope. Deadly Alliance goes into more history, and talks about "Whitey Bulgers" - ie killer informants - in cities like New York, Chicago, and Cleveland, and it gives more of the historical context of how the FBI came to recruit guys like Bulger and Steve Flemmi.

Ralph Ranalli
Black Mass tells the story of what happened, I wanted to tell the story of why.

Vito Corleone
what is the conection between the new york mob and the boston mob?..is there any conection or are they run as 2 seperate enterprises?

Ralph Ranalli
Hi again Vito. Boston, while idependent, was sort of a branch office of the mob. We never really had anywhere near the power of the New York mob - in fact the NE mob has always been headquartered in Providence, not Boston. Technically, the Gambino family in New York ultimately called the shots for the NE mob.

Rembrandt
Hi Ralph. Looking forward to reading your book. I'm wondering where and when the last really solid Whitey siting was?

Ralph Ranalli
The last real solid sighting was three or four years ago in Louisiana. Since then there have been some possibles - like a hairdresser in California who though she did the girlfriend's hair - but not much else. He's doing a great job hiding. And the question is - how hard is the FBI looking?

Henry Hill
Is there a movie planned for Whitey's life?

Ralph Ranalli
There have actually been a couple of movie projects. Miramax bought the rights to Black Mass, but recently announced that they were dropping a project based on the book. Robert Redford's production company is reportedly in pre-production of a movie based more on the Bulger brothers' story. No news yet on seeing Deadly Alliance on the big or small screen, but I'm hopeful. I've had a few nibbles, but no bites.

Boston Dave
How seriously do you think FBI is currently looking for Whitey?

Ralph Ranalli
Honestly, not very. He's on the Top 10 list, but at various times there have been only 1 or 2 agents assigned to find him. FBI agents are very loyal to informants, so finding a guy like Whitey is not going to be anyone's dream job there. Plus he knows a lot of embarassing stuff - there are even stories that he tape-recorded some of his conversations with handlers like John Connolly and John Morris.

WhiteWash
Even with the Connoly indictment, do you think the new FBI Director will make radical changes and admit serius wrong doing. Would he do something dramatic like apologize to the families killed by mob informats or for the people thrown in jail and give them all a big settlement

Ralph Ranalli
Hi WhiteWash. The suits against the FBI from victims of Bulger and Flemmi now total over $1.3 billion - so with that kind of money on the line, I don't think an apology or settlement is coming down soon. As for the new Director, other new directors have tried and failed to do the same thing.

Naria
Hi Ralph, Do you think that the corruption at the FBI Boston office is still going on at the level of the Whitey-era?

Ralph Ranalli
No. A lot of those people are gone now, and there is an ongoing Justice Department Corruption Task Force investigation into the office, so it would be pretty hard to cover up that kind of malfeasance now. What is disheartening is that some of the guys who were part of an earlier FBI internal corruption investigation - which incredibly found "no" corruption - are running the Boston office. I talk about an old FBI saying in the book: "mess up, move up" which means that the Bureau often hides people who do bad things by giving them promotions.

Ralph Ranalli
I think the FBI's problems are systemic and ingrained in its culture and can't be fixed by management changes. I think the FBI needs to be broken up into several smaller agencies that have a clearer sense of mission about would be easier for the Justice Department to manage. The modern FBI does too many things right now - and not many of them well, unfortunately.

crimey
I'm very interested to read your book! Was it very hard to get people on the "inside" to cooperate with you? Did you have a contract of anonymity for your sources?

Ralph Ranalli
Some people would only talk to me on condition of anonymity - some feared for their jobs, others for their lives. But there was a core of very dedicated, very concerned former FBI agents and others who felt it was an important enough issue to come forward and talk.

baydive
What do you think the FBI hoped to gain by cooperating with Bulger?

Ralph Ranalli
The FBI was trying to get the Italian-American Mafia, which was the Justice Department's biggest priority in the 1970s and 1980s. It was such a big deal, in large part because of the positive publicity the "G-men" got from their war on the Italian wiseguys, that they were willing to make deals with killers like Bulger and Flemmi. Was it worth it? Bulger is charged with killing 18 people - most while he was an informant - read the book and you decide.

Bugsy Seagel
who is the head of the new england mob right now...is it the Furtado family, which has been rumored in the boston globe?

Ralph Ranalli
It may be a misnomer to say that there even IS a NE mob at this point. There are a lot of small factions and things are very disorganized.

Ralph Ranalli
It will probably never be like the good old days under Raymond L.S. Patriarca and Gennaro Angiulo.

Frank
What is the evidence that Larry Sarhatt, Bob Fitzpatrick, or any of the other Boston-FBI supervisors knew Connolly and Morris were in too far with Bulger?

Ralph Ranalli
Hello Frank. Funny you should ask that question. There is plenty of evidence in the FBI documents that were released as part of the Flemmi-Salemme case in Boston's U.S. District Court that show that FBI SAC's and ASAC's were constantly dealing with problems related to crimes committed by Bulger and Flemmi. Each time, they decided to keep them on as informants instead of prosecuting them - thus perpetuating the "Deadly Alliance."

Boston Dave
Hello... Are there any other examples of relationships similar to the Bulger/Connolly one in other FBI offices in other cities?

Ralph Ranalli
Yea, check out Chapter 5 in the book, it's called "The New Untouchables." One example: There was a guy in New York named Greg Scarpa who killed probably as many guys as Whitey did. One day his fellow mobsters came to him and accused him of being a rat, and told him to go out and kill someone to prove he wasn't. He promptly did, and was able to keep working for the FBI without suspicion.

Frank
Also, how did Bulger know Halloran was in town the day he killed him? Does anybody besides Eddie Mack say that Connolly relayed to Bulger that Halloran had called in to FBI HQ that day?

Ralph Ranalli
Halloran was talking to the FBI office on the day he was killed, there are reports of conversations between him and agents. There is no other evidence that I know of, though, that Connolly tipped off Bugler and Flemmi on the day of the murder. John Morris said Connolly admitted telling Bulger and Flemmi that Brian Halloran was going to implicate them in a murder, though. Halloran was killed in 1982 on the South Boston waterfront, that scene is the opening of Deadly Alliance.

kc
In your opinion, what are some other good reads in this area (in addition to your book) that would be enjoyable?

Ralph Ranalli
After you buy my book, check out "Witness for the Dead" by Mike Fredrickson, it's sort of a fictional account of the whole thing. Joe Barboza's autobiography is a fun, scary read too, but it's incredibly hard to find. Former FBI agent Bill Roemer's books are also revealing about how the FBI dealt with informants - although Roemer paints things in a rosy light as you might expect.

june
The "mob" presence in Providence still feels strong. Do you really think they broken into small, disorganized factions?

Ralph Ranalli
Maybe that was too strong. I meant disorganized across NE, not in traditional strongholds like Providence, Revere, the North End, etc. I meant that there is little in the way of tight, regional control.

Curious
It's impossible to believe that Billy Bulger didn't know what his brother was up to. Is there any evidence that Billy abetted Whitey?

Ralph Ranalli
There is no good evidence that Billy aided Whitey in criminal activities, but Billy was certainly a mentor for John Connolly, who was Whitey's active protector - so maybe Billy was smart enough to stay one step removed. It's hard to know. Billy is very smart and very connected - probably too much so to not know a lot of the things his brother was up to.

A truth seeker
Just how culpable are journalists in this story. For many years reporters in Boston went along with the story that Whitey was merely a Robin Hood. They also perpetrated the myth that Whitey was useful in the fight against the LCN. And Sean Flynn for example in Boston Magazine stated the only reason why Connolly is being prosecuted is that the "rules changed."How many bodies have to pile up before the papers in Boston acknowledge their guilt?

Ralph Ranalli
The press can be held accountable for some of this, but if it wasn't for the press, the FBI's relationship with Whitey might still be going on. A couple of FBI agents, like ASAC Bob Fitzpatrick, tried to end the relationship with Whitey and had their own careers sabotaged for their trouble. But I think it's telling that when John Morris wanted to finally end the relationship in 1988, he didn't go to Washington, he went to the Globe.

Moderator
That's all for today's chat. Ralph has to run

Moderator
Thanks for joining in sorry to those whose questions didn't get answered. We got to as many as we could

Ralph Ranalli
Thanks everyone for participating in this chat. I hope you enjoy the book. I am signing at the Globe Store in Downtown Boston at 5 p.m. on Sept. 13th. More questions? Email me at rranalli@globe.com

 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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