FBI makes admission on Bulger
Confirms 'Whitey' was an informant
By Patricia Nealon, Globe Staff, 6/07/1997
What has long been suspected is now official: Fugitive crime boss James
J. ``Whitey'' Bulger was an informant for the FBI.
Faced with an ultimatum from a US District judge -- the result of maneuvers
by defense lawyers -- the FBI revealed its relationship with Bulger rather
than jeopardize its case against several suspected crime bosses.
The FBI acknowledged Bulger's role during a closed hearing Tuesday before
US District Judge Mark L. Wolf. An order stemming from that hearing was made
Besides the admission that Bulger had acted as an informant for ``a
substantial'' period of time, the court papers also reveal that Bulger's
longtime partner, Stephen J. ``The Rifleman'' Flemmi, was working with the FBI
as well and that the agency tried to enlist reputed Mafia boss Francis P.
``Cadillac Frank'' Salemme as an informant in 1969.
Bulger's suspected relationship with the FBI was first revealed in a Globe
Spotlight report in 1988.
Yesterday's revelations, along with the possibility that four other
reputed organized crime figures were also working with the FBI, could
jeopardize -- and perhaps jettison -- the last major prosecution of local
organized crime leaders. And they could call into question earlier
prosecutions, including the celebrated mob convictions of the 1980s.
At issue is whether FBI agents misinformed judges when they asked
permission to bug the suspects -- even though they already were using
informants to build their cases. If Wolf finds the men were working with the
FBI at the time, the intercepted conversations could be blocked as evidence.
That could damage, if not destroy, the government's case and have a spillover
effect with earlier cases.
``If the government did not have an absolute need for electronic
surveillance . . . the most invasive government effort with respect to
personal privacy, and if the court was misled, then all of those orders were
improperly authorized and all of that evidence was unlawfully obtained,'' said
defense attorney Elliot Weinstein, who represented Francesco Angiulo,
convicted along with his brother, Gennaro, and others of running La Cosa
Nostra in Boston.
The Angiulos were convicted in 1986 in a case based largely on similarly
recorded evidence from the FBI. Bulger was one of the informants the FBI used
to bug Angiulo's North End headquarters, sources say.
In the Salemme case, the intercepted conversations include the legendary
bugging of a Mafia induction ceremony in Medford in October 1989 that brought
down the hierarchy of the Patriarca crime family. And that same evidence, in
part, buttresses the extortion and racketeering cases now pending against
Bulger, Flemmi, Salemme, and two associates, James M. Martorano and Robert
DeLuca, in early 1995.
Bulger has been a fugitive since his indictment in January 1995. Just
last week the FBI announced a stepped-up effort to find him, including a
$250,000 reward and a wanted poster -- amid speculation that the agency was
not aggressively pursuing Bulger because he was once an informant.
Yesterday, the FBI declined to comment on items in the court documents,
including a January 1995 assertion by the Boston FBI's chief division counsel
that agents handling Flemmi ``had at least tacitly authorized his
participation in [La Cosa Nostra] policymaking, as well as illegal gambling.''
If the trial goes forward without the bugging evidence, the defendants
could argue -- perhaps successfully, Wolf suggests -- that Bulger and Flemmi
were actually government agents, not members of the criminal enterprise the
government must prove in order to convict them.
Salemme's lawyers, Anthony Cardinale of Boston and John W. Mitchell of
New York, suggested yesterday they may make that argument.
``The government brought this case knowing that two defendants [Bulger and
Flemmi] had cooperated with the government for something like 30 years and had
served as government agents, yet represented this was a bona fide
[racketeering] enterprise,'' Mitchell said.
``We didn't know until just recently that apparently some part of this
enterprise was being orchestrated by the government,'' Mitchell said.
In the order, Wolf indicated that defense attorneys might also argue that
Bulger and Flemmi's activities as informants amounted to entrapment.
Wolf pointed to the recent acquittal of seven reputed members of the
Colombo crime family in New York after it was revealed that Gregory Scarpa,
who had participated in some crimes charged in the case, was an FBI informant
for many years.
Quoting from an account of the verdict, Wolf wrote that jurors accepted
the defense argument that Scarpa, while working for the FBI, had sparked a
Colombo family war in the early 1990s, and the defendants acted in
self-defense to avoid being killed by Scarpa.
While Bulger and Flemmi have been revealed as informants, the
government's refusal to disclose whether four other men -- convicted drug
trafficker and one-time fugitive Angelo ``Sonny'' Mercurio; Anthony ``The
Saint'' St. Laurant, a reputed ``made member'' of the Patriarca crime family
based in Rhode Island; the late Robert Donati; and Kenneth Guarino -- has set
up a showdown between prosecutors and the court.
Wolf has given Acting Deputy Attorney General Seth Waxman until noon
Thursday to disclose whether Mercurio, St. Laurant, Guarino, and Donati were
FBI informants. Neither the Justice Department nor local prosecutors would
Waxman is the senior Justice Department official who must approve
requests to reveal the identities of informants. If he refuses to disclose
whether the four men were acting as informants, Waxman must tell the court
whether the department will agree to the exclusion of the wiretap evidence --
or have the case dismissed.
Wolf said the lawyers for the defendants have made ``a substantial
preliminary showing that the government may have deliberately violated the
law'' by not disclosing to judges that some of the people they wanted to bug
To get permission for electronic surveillance, Wolf wrote, government
agents must make ``a full and complete statement'' detailing why conventional
investigative techniques -- including use of informants -- ``are unavailable
or unlikely to succeed.''
Specifically, Wolf has ordered hearings to consider throwing out evidence
gained via electronic surveillance of Bulger, Flemmi, and associate George
Kaufman, who is now dead, in 1984 and 1985; the FBI bugging of the Medford
home used on Oct. 29, 1989, for the Mafia induction ceremony; and
conversations federal agents intercepted at the Hilton Hotel in East Boston on
Dec. 11, 1990.
It is ``undisputed,'' court papers say, that Flemmi was cooperating with
the FBI in 1984 and 1985 and that judges being asked permission for electronic
surveillance of him and his associates were never told that.
Lawyers for the defendants contend that Mercurio began working as an FBI
informant shortly after his bakery was raided in 1987 during an investigation
into gambling and extortion. Mercurio attended the October 1989 Mafia
induction ceremony -- for which a ``roving'' bug was authorized -- ferrying
participants in his car.
Yet when he and other reputed mobsters were indicted the following month,
Mercurio was not arrested. Lawyers for the defendants suggest that shows he
was an informant being protected. Mercurio fled and remained a fugitive until
he was convicted of drug trafficking in Georgia in 1995.
To bolster their suggestion that Guarino and St. Laurant were informants,
defense lawyers point to comments by an FBI agent monitoring the electronic
eavesdropping from an adjacent hotel room during the Hilton Hotel bugging. The
listening device inadvertently picked up the agent's comments, in which he
refers to both ``Saint'' and ``Kenny.''
St. Laurant, the defense attorneys point out, also got a lenient sentence
on a drug conviction, and gaming charges against him were dropped after his
home was raided. Guarino, they say, received a light sentence on a Nevada
Donati, who was murdered in September 1991, is believed to have been
killed after word got out that he was becoming a government witness.
Shelley Murphy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/07/1997.
© Copyright 1997 Globe Newspaper Company.