One of America’s most notorious mobsters who dominated Boston’s criminal underworld has been found guilty of murder and racketeering – an all-embracing charge that included many gangland crimes.
James “Whitey” Bulger, now 83, ran the “Winter Hill” gang, a ruthless mob that raked in millions through drugs, gambling and extortion.
After a two-month trial and more than four days of deliberations by a federal jury, he has now been convicted of 11 murders, although prosecutors had accused him of orchestrating or committing 19 in the 1970s and 80s.
One of the confirmed victims was Michael Donahue, gunned down by mistake in 1982 as he gave a lift to Bulger’s intended target.
“I was a little nervous after hearing all of these ‘not proved’, ‘not proved,’ so by the time they got to my husband and they said that he was guilty I just couldn’t hold my emotions in any more,” said the victim’s wife Patricia Donahue after the verdict.
There was disappointment among other families where murder was not proven.
The jury decided prosecutors had failed to prove their case in murders that dated back to a 1970s turf war with another organisation, the Notorangeli gang. The victims included members of that gang and people who were killed by accident in botched hits and had nothing to do with the gangs.
The jury reached no finding in the death of one woman, Debra Davis, a girlfriend of Bulger associate Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. Flemmi testified at trial that Bulger strangled Davis in a South Boston house after she learned of their dealings with the FBI. Other witnesses had testified that Flemmi himself finished Davis off.
The government’s case relied heavily on three former top associates of Bulger: Flemmi, John “The Executioner” Martorano and Kevin Weeks, who detailed 19 grisly murders the gang committed.
Nicknamed “Whitey” because of the shock of blonde hair he had as a young man, Bulger cultivated a kind of Robin Hood image in Irish-Catholic working-class neighbourhoods of South Boston, but that vanished as police began digging up bodies.
His reputation is now further dented by his conviction for murdering a woman, and by accusations that he was a “rat”, informing on fellow criminals.
Defence lawyers said they were pleased the case had exposed FBI corruption in its deals with the underworld. The trial heard that Bulger had been an FBI informant who passed on details of the Italian Mafia and was protected by corrupt agents.
It was one such tip-off from inside the FBI that reportedly helped Bulger escape arrest in 1994. He remained on the run for another 16 years until he was finally apprehended, living with his girlfriend in a flat near the beach in Santa Monica, California.
James “Whitey” Bulger – apparently the model for Jack Nicholson’s mobster in Martin Scorcese’s 2006 film “The Departed” – will be sentenced in November and faces the rest of his life behind bars.