Saturday, March 17, 2007

America's Most Wanted: James "Whitey" Joseph Bulger

Friends of ours: James "Whitey" Bulger, Raymond Patriarca, Jerry Angiulo, "Cadillac" Frank Salemme, Steven "The Rifleman" Flemmi
Friends of mine: John Connelly

There was a period of time in the 80s when renowned mobster James "Whitey" Bulger led a reign of terror of sorts in Boston, Mass. Those who knew him or dug around for information found their lives threatened by Bulger and his crew. So when he went on the run in 1995, no one talked for fear of retaliation. But now, FBI Agents have released surveillance video of Bulger in hopes of helping their investigation. Although the video is more than 25 years old, agents on the Bulger Fugitive Task Force believe bringing national attention to the case may help jog the memories of those who were too scared to come forward when Whitey Bulger had control.

The housing projects in South Boston are a difficult place to grow up. Crowded and violent, these complexes are renowned in the Boston area for creating tough, often criminal, young men. That's where the Bulger boys, Jimmy and Billy spent their formative years. But the neighborhood had different effects on the two boys. Billy grew up to be a very well respected leader in the community. He was elected to the Massachusetts Senate in 1979 and became its president, a position he held for 17 years.

Jimmy, however, was a different story. He was always known as a tough kid on the streets - no one would call him his nickname, "Whitey," to his face. Bulger hated the name, given to him for his shock of blond hair. At a young age he turned to a life of crime. He was convicted of bank robbery in the 1950s and spent nine years in federal prisons, including the infamous Alcatraz. When he got out, he made his way back to Boston and reportedly vowed never to go back to prison again. But that's not to say that Whitey changed his ways. Authorities allege Whitey became an underworld mob figure, involved in loan sharking, extortion, money laundering and various other crimes. In the 70s state police and DEA agents say Bulger's most common criminal activity was extortion of other criminals. Drug dealers who wanted to move their drugs through South Boston had to pay Bulger for the privilege. As a result, he was known as a Robin Hood figure in the community, stealing from the criminals and giving back to the residents of his neighborhood.

Cops say Bulger was not always so philanthropic. Those who knew him say he could be violent, especially to those who got in his way. When a liquor store owner would not sell his business, cops say Bulger threatened his infant daughter. Those who seemed to be a threat to Bulger kept disappearing. But for years, Bulger was never charged with any crime, and never arrested.

Meanwhile, a crackdown on the Italian Mafia was taking place all over the country, and Boston was no exception. In the 60s and 70s, Boston's mob community was controlled by the Patriarca family. Raymond Patriarca ruled out of Providence, Rhode Island, and his underboss Jerry Angiulo ran the rackets in Boston. The mafia controlled most of the nefarious business in the city, but they were not the only act in town. The Winter Hill Gang, an Irish force named for a hill in Somerville, MA, was renowned for their violent manner and iron fist with which they ran their extortion schemes.

In the mid eighties, two events left the New England mob scene in turmoil. The mob boss, Raymond Patriarca died. His lieutenant in charge of Boston, Jerry Angiulo, was sent to prison. Boston was up for grabs. The Patriarca family out of Rhode Island tried to maintain power, but they were challenged by a local don, "Cadillac" Frank Salemme. Salemme wound up on top, thanks to, officials report, Steven "The Rifleman" Flemmi and James "Whitey" Bulger.

The government's investigation of the Boston mob did not end with Patriarca's death. They went after Salemme and his organization next and were able to connect members with multiple counts of extortion, drug charges and many counts of murder. In January, 1995, a RICO indictment was released charging Bulger and others with crimes. The other co-conspirators were arrested, but Bulger, mystifyingly, escaped.

Soon after the indictment came down it became clear how Bulger had managed to evade the law over all those years and how he knew to run when the indictment was issued. Bulger was working as an informant for the FBI. An FBI agent, John Connelly, who also grew up in the South Boston projects, had been brought in to help the organized crime division bring down the Italian Mafia. One of Connelly's techniques was to use his connections in the underworld to recruit informants. Steven "The Rifleman" Flemmi was one of those, as was "Whitey" Bulger.

In return for their information, Connelly promised that the FBI would turn a blind eye to any criminal enterprises Bulger may be involved in. In addition, the FBI tipped Bulger off whenever another agency, like the Massachusetts State Police or the DEA, was trying to build a case against him. So, when the US Attorney was about to release the indictment against Bulger, Connelly tipped him off and gave him a head start on those pursuing him.

Authorities believe Bulger could be anywhere now. They have tracked him all over the country and the world. They believe he was in Britian a few years ago, and they found safe deposit boxes in England and Ireland filled with money.

Agents believe Bulger is staying in a warm climate, and believe he may have to treat a heart condition with a drug called Atenolol.

Thanks to AMW

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