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SPOTLIGHT FOLLOW-UP

Special counsel’s report puts another Bulger under microscope

Top O’Brien aide suspended, may face disbarment

By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / November 20, 2010

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Loyalty at all costs has already stripped two Bulgers of the privileges of a life in Massachusetts politics. This week, it threatened to dislodge another from his post.

Christopher J. Bulger, deputy commissioner and legal counsel of the state Probation Department, was suspended with pay this week after a report detailing systemic corruption in the department accused him of “dishonest or incompetent oversight’’ of hiring.

The report of an independent counsel tapped to root out patronage in the department cited Bulger’s “misplaced loyalty’’ to his boss, Commissioner John J. O’Brien, and said that, after the commissioner was suspended, Bulger was keeping him apprised of the status of the investigation two to three times a week.

“It is clear that Bulger’s foremost loyalty even today lies with Commissioner O’Brien, not the Probation Department,’’ wrote independent counsel Paul F. Ware Jr., who called for Bulger to be suspended and reviewed by the Board of Bar Overseers for possible disbarment.

William J. Cintolo, the lawyer who represented Bulger during the investigation, said he had not yet read the report and was not able to comment on it. Bulger did not agree to an interview.

The son of former Senate president William M. Bulger was among those implicated in the investigation, in his case, in allegedly turning a blind eye to systematic hiring fraud in the Probation Department. In his testimony, Bulger denied knowledge of specific favoritism, saying he assumed the interview process was rigged to favor the politically connected, but that he also assumed patronage happens everywhere.

The second youngest of the former Senate president’s nine children, Christopher Bulger, 41, of Hanson joined the Probation Department as a lawyer in 1998 and became a deputy commissioner and legal counsel in 2008, according to the report. Before that, he worked as an assistant Norfolk district attorney.

He is only the latest member of his famous family to take his turn in the uncomfortable spotlight. His father was forced out of his job as president of the University of Massachusetts in 2003 by Governor Mitt Romney after standing by his fugitive mobster brother, James “Whitey’’ Bulger. Sought in connection with 19 killings and one of the FBI’s 10 most wanted, Whitey Bulger has eluded authorities since he fled shortly before being indicted on racketeering charges in January 1995.

In 2001 testimony before a federal grand jury, William M. Bulger acknowledged that he had shared a prearranged telephone call with his brother in 1995 and said he felt no obligation to help bring him to justice. “I do have an honest loyalty to my brother, and I care about him,’’ William Bulger had said in his testimony, according to a transcript previously obtained by the Globe. “It’s my hope that I’m never helpful to anyone against him.’’

Another brother, John P. Bulger, lost his state pension in 2003 after pleading guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about contacts with his fugitive brother. John Bulger was a retired clerk magistrate at Boston Juvenile Court and sued unsuccessfully to reclaim his pension. His lawyer argued before the Supreme Judicial Court that he had not violated his oath as a clerk magistrate but lied to grand juries out of “family loyalty.’’

Christopher Bulger, 41, has publicly demonstrated his own fierce family allegiance. In 2002, when his father was subpoenaed to testify before a congressional committee investigating the FBI’s relationship with Whitey Bulger, Christopher Bulger lashed out against US Representative Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston, a member of the committee, for not defending his father.

In South Boston Online, Christopher Bulger called Lynch “simply, unabashedly opportunistic.’’ The public spat was viewed in part as an eruption between two family clans: Lynch had beaten Christopher’s brother, William M. Bulger Jr., to win their father’s seat in the state Senate after the elder Bulger stepped down in 1996.

In his testimony before the special counsel, Christopher Bulger seemed to infuriate the independent counsel. The report says Bulger was “consistently evasive and untruthful in responding to questions under oath.’’

“He made repeated attempts to deflect the questioning,’’ the report says. “Many of his answers were blatantly false in the view of independent counsel.’’ The report suggests the probability that Bulger knew of the extent of fraud for years but tried to maintain “plausible deniability.’’

The report shows that as legal counsel, Bulger played a key role in preserving the job of one patronage hire, Ashley Losapio, who had been giving information to criminals. She received a two-week suspension and a transfer to a different court division, but was not fired. While acknowledging that the department’s hands may have been tied because of union issues, Ware wrote, “It is inconceivable that a responsible private sector company would continue the employment of an employee who knowingly used company computers to assist her criminal friends.’’

Bulger also acknowledged regularly updating O’Brien about the status of the investigation. In testimony under oath in October, Bulger told investigators that he briefed him two or three times a week and that he would call O’Brien that very afternoon to brief him “unless I’m told not to,’’ according to a transcript obtained by the Globe.

In one exchange, detailed in testimony obtained by the Globe, the investigators apparently grew frustrated with Bulger as he denied ever seeing a list of names of potential hires, though he had encouraged an employee to provide it to the investigators.

“Mr. Bulger, please. You’re legal counsel to the Probation Department,’’ the questioner said, according to the report. “There is an investigation going on which you have said you treat as a criminal investigation. Your employee comes to you and says: ‘Here’s a list of recommenders for particular candidates. Do I take this to independent counsel? And you said yes without looking at the list?’ ’’

“Yes,’’ Bulger answered. “Yes.’’

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com.