Flemmi says he, Bulger got FBI's OK on crimes
By Patricia Nealon, Globe Staff, 6/26/1997
Gangster turned informant Stephen J. ``The Rifleman'' Flemmi asserted
yesterday that an FBI contact assured him and his criminal partner, James J.
``Whitey'' Bulger, they could continue to commit crimes -- short of murder --
without fear of prosecution.
Flemmi also said he was tipped off to the exact date when he, Bulger and
four others would be indicted so he could take off.
The explosive claim was contained in a three-page affidavit filed
yesterday in US District Court. It was the latest in a series of disclosures
that began earlier this month with the official acknowledgement that Bulger
and Flemmi had worked for decades as FBI informants.
In a terse, two-sentence statement, Barry W. Mawn, the head of the Boston
office of the FBI, pointed out that the allegations were being made ``by an
individual who is a codefendant in a pending federal racketeering case.''
Still, Mawn said, the agency would follow policy and investigate Flemmi's
The FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, based in Washington, is
already investigating agents' handling of informants like Bulger and Flemmi.
Flemmi, who ran the Winter Hill Gang with Bulger, described secret
meetings at the Lexington home of FBI agent John Morris, who ran the bureau's
organized crime squad here. At the meetings, Flemmi says, he and Bulger were
all but given carte blanche to break the law.
``Mr. Morris told Mr. Bulger and I that we could do anything we wanted so
long as we didn't `clip anyone,' '' Flemmi's affidavit said.
Morris has since retired from the FBI and could not be reached for
Flemmi said he relied on those assurances during his time as an informant,
which he said continued until his arrest on extortion and racketeering charges
in January 1995. That contradicts the FBI's previous contention that Flemmi
was terminated as an informant in December 1990.
There was talk of terminating him as an informant in 1988 after Boston
Globe Spotlight stories, quoting sources, first reported Bulger's role, but he
was kept on.
His claim that he was authorized to commit crimes, however, is
contradicted by an affidavit filed in April by a high-ranking Justice
Department official. In that document, Paul E. Coffey, chief of the
department's Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, said Flemmi and Bulger
were warned periodically that they were not authorized to commit any crimes
without specific permission -- something Coffey said they never received.
But Flemmi's contentions are backed, at least in part, by a January 1995
report by the chief division counsel of the Boston office of the FBI. It
concluded that Flemmi's handlers had at least tacitly authorized his
participation in illegal gambling and ``La Cosa Nostra'' policy-making.
Flemmi's assertions, if true, could open another front for defense
lawyers attacking the racketeering charges against him, Bulger, New England
Mafia boss Francis P. ``Cadillac Frank'' Salemme and three others.
If the defense can show that the alleged racketeering conspiracy between
the Winter Hill Gang and the local Mafia was in fact orchestrated by the FBI,
the racketeering charges could be challenged.
``If someone is authorized to commit a criminal act, then they can't be a
bona fide co-conspirator,'' John W. Mitchell, Salemme's lawyer, said outside
the courtroom. In a case where many documents still remain secret, Mitchell
and co-counsel Anthony M. Cardinale said they were confining their remarks to
what is in the public record.
``They're charging that there was an enterprise, that these gentlemen
worked together to make the enterprise run,'' said Mitchell. ``If it turned
out that wasn't the case, that these people were actually acting as government
agents, then that would affect whether the enterprise would be deemed to
Defense lawyers are already challenging wiretap evidence -- including
conversations of Bulger and Flemmi and a 1989 Mafia induction ceremony in
Medford -- on grounds that the judge who authorized the bugging should have
been told that informants like Flemmi and Bulger were available.
Flemmi's assertion that he was alerted before charges were brought
against him would confirm long-held suspicions that he and other codefendants
were given head starts.
Though Flemmi did not get away, Salemme remained a fugitive until his
capture in Florida seven months later. Bulger is still at large.
US District Judge Mark L. Wolf said Flemmi's affidavit raises the
possibility that the charges could be challenged on two grounds: that the
racketeering enterprise alleged in the indictment didn't exist, or that the
government entrapped the defendants.
While agreeing that the defense is entitled to information showing Bulger
and Flemmi ``lacked intent to commit crimes,'' prosecutor Fred M. Wyshak Jr.
chastised Kenneth J. Fishman, Flemmi's lawyer, for the blind reference to
Flemmi's having been alerted to the upcoming indictment.
Flemmi's affidavit says he was specifically informed of the precise date
of the indictment ``so that I could flee if I chose to do so.'' It does not
say who tipped him off.
``I want to know why they don't say who it was that tipped him off,''
said Wyshak. ``To me, that's obstruction of justice. And the Department of
Justice has a duty to investigate criminal activity.''
In a prepared statement later, the US attorney's office said it reported
Flemmi's allegations to the FBI in Washington -- just as it had when Salemme's
lawyers alleged misconduct by agents earlier this year.
Flemmi's affidavit was made public during hearings to determine what
information defense attorneys are entitled to before hearings in August on
suppressing wiretap evidence. The defense has also said it plans to ask that
criminal charges be dismissed, possibly citing government misconduct.
Flemmi has already received documents from his FBI file. But so far, the
government has not agreed to turn over the ``administrative'' portion of his
file -- something Fishman argued for again yesterday.
``Clearly the government's position is going to be that there was a rogue
agent out there who had an illicit relationship with Mr. Flemmi,'' said
Fishman. ``That's exactly why we need this material.''
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/26/1997.
© Copyright 1997 Globe Newspaper Company.