Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Whitey Nightmare Continues !!


We found Whitey Bulger . . . and he’s still missing

Anniversary party: The FBI celebrates 12 years of failure

By DAVID BOERI
January 4, 2007 10:18:18 AM


“What do his legs look like?”

I’d never been asked that before. I was taking a call from San Diego about Whitey Bulger. I get a lot of calls about Bulger, but this one was different.

“I need to know what his legs look like. I’m pretty sure it’s him.”

I knew Whitey carried a knife strapped to his ankle — investigators found a Velcro ankle strap at one of his places. I knew the cops going through the trash outside his Quincy place back in the ’80s figured out he was lactose intolerant. I knew his vital stats better than I know my daughters’. But I didn’t know what Bulger’s legs looked like.

I figured I’d better find out. The guy I was talking to in San Diego, who had identified himself as a law-enforcement agent, clearly had an eye for detail.

“He has blue eyes. I got close to him as he was leaving the theater and looked right into them. He was wearing a white shirt — an Oxford button-down — white shoes — New Balance — and a floppy fisherman’s-bucket hat, and shorts.”

The caller reached me a day or two after he’d gone to a matinee screening of the Martin Scorsese movie The Departed in downtown San Diego on October 6, 2006. He was so sure that in the audience he’d spotted the South Boston gangster upon whom Jack Nicholson’s character was supposed to be based that afterward he’d maneuvered his way to the front of the crowd to get a good look at the man’s face. Seeing the man’s eyes were blue, he’d tailed him for four blocks before losing him near the trolley, he said.

That he’d lost sight of a 77-year-old man was embarrassing enough — I figured the guy wouldn’t have made that up. I was impressed by his initiative; he had the makings of a real fugitive hunter. While following the look-alike, he’d called the San Diego bureau of the FBI, and that afternoon, an agent had pulled tape from a surveillance camera situated in the mall outside the theater. It showed the backside of someone going down an escalator who, the agent told him, had the same mannerisms as Bulger. ( Click here to view the surveillance video .)

Now, a couple days later, my caller was seething with frustration. He’d expected that the bureau would help him flood the area — he thought he knew where Bulger had gone. He was ready to go. But the FBI wasn’t returning his calls or e-mails. Showing still more initiative, he’d gone back to the mall, retraced the path his subject had taken, flashed his credentials, and found five cameras that had captured the look-alike’s image on tape, face forward and even in close-up. He was already searching the area he thought his suspect was headed for on the trolley. He was eagerly waiting for agents to join him. He was eager to describe the look-alike’s facial features to see if it was a match.

“I’m a freaking cop and they’re not returning my calls,” he complained. The FBI didn’t return his calls for the next 36 days.

I didn’t know what Bulger’s legs looked like, but I told my man in San Diego I knew people who probably did, and that I’d get back to him. I was skeptical he’d seen Bulger, but I knew enough to take him seriously. “His legs are freckled and he has no hair on them,” he told me.

As it turns out, Whitey’s family, lovers, and rape victims may be the only ones who’ve ever seen the gangster’s legs.

“He never once wore shorts when I was with him,” said Kevin Weeks, and as his right-hand man for 20 years, Weeks had seen Bulger in all sorts of positions: strangling a woman with his hands, blowing a victim’s brains out, and casually and cruelly killing another victim over the course of hours . . . but never in shorts.

The California sun has been known to loosen up a lot of people, however, and maybe “Jim,” as Bulger’s friends know him, had unburdened himself of both killing and clothing conventions. Perhaps he’s shed the long pants as easily as he discarded the 19 murder indictments and the 18 other killings Weeks says the fugitive owned up to one night. Maybe that was Whitey in shorts.

But the FBI wasn’t calling my man in San Diego, who now had a collection of videos and images of the subject that the bureau didn’t even know about. The fact that his Bulger look-alike hadn’t taken his hat off in the movie theater had my caller convinced and pumped him to go looking.

“They don’t even call me,” my West Coast contact fumed. “They bungle-f’d the whole thing.”

When he talked about the San Diego Bureau agent assigned to investigate Bulger sightings in Southern California, he was blunt: “She couldn’t solve a murder if it occurred in front of her.”

The Irish distraction
Perhaps the FBI and the Bulger Task Force were too emotionally invested in their Irish leads to care much about San Diego. Whitey fever had them in its clutches this year when the Irish Garda notified them that they had a Whitey look-alike they’d been watching, and they had him on video and audio tape. They were quite confident (70 percent confident, they claimed) they had their man.

In Boston, the FBI called an old Boston cop in from retirement in the early fall to check out the Irish tape, since not one person in the current Bulger Task Force had ever seen Whitey in person. Apart from what they’d seen on a few frames of video, they’d never seen him walk either.

The cop came in and saw someone who didn’t look or sound like Bulger — the voice was too high, he says, too whiny, too Irish in its brogue. He was noncommittal, but the surveillance operation in Ireland continued, apparently undimmed by the cop’s assessment, until the Garda and the bureau moved in on the Bulger-who-wasn’t and the Irish illusion was popped like an overblown balloon.

Back in Boston, the old cop had walked out of the bureau into the fresh air after seeing the video and joined the ranks of other FBI outsiders who’ve worked on or with the bureau’s Bulger Task Force and who are convinced the bureau is totally incapable of finding its man.

2006 wasn’t a very good year for the Bulger Task Force. But then again, none of them have been very good years . . . unless you consider them from the vantage point of the agents involved. Task force members have traveled the world to A-list destinations (including England, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Thailand, Brazil, and a place in Uruguay called “the St. Tropez of South America”) to check out Bulger look-alikes. (At the Great Wall of China, one agent on the Bulger squad posed for a photograph with a wanted poster of Whitey, as was noted in a publication for retired FBI agents: “Dave has been to 18 countries in the chase for Whitey . . . as he admits, not bad for a kid from Hyde Park.”)

At the beginning of the New Year, in what’s become as much a local tradition as The Nutcracker and Christmas at the Pops, January 5 marks another sort of Boston pageant, though one as cold as the bleak midwinter. For on this Twelfth Night, while the Christian world marks the coming of the Magi, Boston marks the going of James “Whitey” Bulger, the serial-killing Scrooge, who became a fugitive on Twelfth Night 12 years ago after receiving a tip to screw from his long-time FBI-handler John Connolly.

You’ll see the three wise men on camels in front yards all across Greater Boston, but you’ll see wise guy Whitey only on wanted posters — a situation that continues to pose a public-relations disaster for the local FBI. As “the founder of the feast,” Bulger was made a top-echelon secret informant decades ago. The bureau then protected him and his associate Steven “the Rifleman” Flemmi from the State Police, the DEA, and the Boston cops while Bulger had the bureau’s own agents working for him.

“Christmas is for cops and kids,” Whitey used to say as he packaged money and gifts for agents, recalls Bulger associate Kevin Weeks. In the same spirit of giving, Weeks told me, Bulger had six FBI agents “he used to claim he could call on any time, and they would be willing to hop in the car with a machine gun and go on a hit with him.”

If the FBI had tracked down the fugitive Bulger in 1995, hauled him back to Boston, fumigated the bureau with a full and open accounting of every agent who’d ever helped him, then put his head on a spike atop the building, the bureau might now be clear of stain and public suspicion. Instead, the FBI has spent anniversary after anniversary in the spotlight, enduring and the perennial question: does the FBI really want to catch Bulger?

The only possible consolation to be found in that query is its implied faith in the FBI’s competence. To the agents involved in the case, it must be strangely comforting that the people who wonder if the bureau is protecting Whitey Bulger still outnumber those who insist the FBI couldn’t find a rock on the coast of Maine.

In the early years, and then again on the 10th anniversary of the day Bulger booked, the bureau tried to make the Yuletide gay by rolling out claims of progress in pursuing a man they hadn’t come close to catching. These days, under the protective cover of the US Attorney’s office, which insists on clearing all press inquiries, the bureau maintains the silence of someone nursing a hangover.

Upward mobility
Not that the embarrassment of failing to find its fugitive has marred the career movement of FBI supervisors. While Bulger’s been on the lam, they’ve been on the climb. Since Whitey split, three “SACS” or special agents in charge and an assistant SAC have come to town, each one vowing to catch him — “There’s a 95 percent chance we’re going to find him,” Charles Prouty assured reporters in 2002. And after not finding him, each one has left Boston with a promotion.

This year, there is something new and different about the bureau’s observation of the anniversary. Downtown at the Omni Parker House on January 5, over London broil, grilled-chicken provence, or baked Boston scrod, some 200 FBI agents from across New England, as well as the whole range of federal law-enforcement agencies and the US Attorney’s Office, will be honoring Ken Kaiser, the latest FBI special agent in charge to leave town for a promotion in Washington. Appropriately enough, Kaiser’s farewell will come within what Bulger would have considered “grease-gun” range of the old Federal Courthouse where he officially became a fugitive on an arctic January night in 1995.

Back in 2003, Kaiser fairly swaggered into Boston telling the Herald: “There is a new sheriff in town.” Calling Bulger’s capture his mandate and top priority, Kaiser told the Boston Globe, “I cannot move the Boston division forward until I get him caught.” Tougher still, this to the Herald about Bulger: “It’s gum on my shoe and I’m going to get it off. . . . We are going to catch him.”

All the tough talk set a high bar that Kaiser failed to clear, but don’t expect any of his adulatory guests to recite those words back to him over scrod. And what’s truly breathtaking is that the FBI and its federal-enforcement cohorts — even US Attorney Michael Sullivan is expected to attend — will honor Kaiser on the anniversary associated with what a congressional committee has called “one of the greatest law-enforcement failures in history.”

Absent from the guest list of backslappers this Friday will be the families of Bulger’s victims, along with the cops the bureau sandbagged when they tried to arrest Bulger during his reign of terror. For them, pairing a fond farewell to Kaiser with the fugitive’s farewell 12 years earlier epitomizes arrogance, ineptitude, indifference, or all three.

“It’s so blatant. It’s so in your face,” says David Wheeler. His father, Roger, a legitimate and wealthy businessman, was shot between the eyes on the orders of Whitey Bulger and former Boston FBI agent H. Paul Rico in the middle of the day in 1981 in far-away Tulsa, Oklahoma, according to prosecutors. Following the sensational murder of Tulsa’s largest employer, Oklahoma investigators came to Boston, but they were stonewalled by both the FBI and federal prosecutors. The Wheeler murder went unsolved for 20 years, like so many others by junior G-men Whitey and Stevie. (After being charged in Tulsa, in 2004, Rico died in jail.)

Over the phone, David Wheeler poses this question for Kaiser: “So where’s Bulger? You had a job to do. You didn’t do it. So why are you getting a promotion?”

Chris McIntyre, a surviving relative of another Bulger victim, says the January 5 luncheon is like “spitting in our face.”

In 1984, after getting a tip from the FBI, Bulger and Flemmi kidnapped Chris’s brother John, who’d been cooperating with the government. Bulger strangled McIntyre with a boat rope while he was tied to a chair, and when he failed to die, Whitey shot him in the back of the head. Flemmi pulled his teeth out with a pair of pliers and they threw him into a hole for 15 years. Though the McIntyres recently won three million dollars in a wrongful-death suit against the FBI, the horror doesn’t go away.

“I really believed Kaiser when he said he was the ‘new sheriff in town.’ He turned out to be the same old stuff. They don’t want to catch Bulger. They’re worse today than they were 20 years ago, because they’re covering up all that crap.”

From the Parker House to the old Federal Courthouse in Post Office Square, it’s only a few more blocks — also within range of a machine gun from Bulger’s arsenal — to the end of High Street and the spot where the State Police and DEA team spent January 5, 1995, looking for Steven Flemmi. They had a warrant for his arrest, and that night when they spotted him, they executed it with a gun to his head and a set of cuffs. Arresting Bulger was supposed to be the FBI’s assignment.

“What did the bureau tell you about Bulger?” I asked retired State Police major Tom Duffy, who helped arrest Flemmi.

“That they had Jimmy in pocket,” Duffy answered.

“ ‘In pocket’? Do those words ring a little hollow all these years later?” I asked.

Duffy almost spit: “He’s still not in pocket.”

Bulger wasn’t “in pocket,” Duffy and the world now know, because he’d been warned off by former FBI star John Connolly, who got the leak of the secret indictment and pending arrest from FBI supervisor Dennis O’Callaghan, the number-two agent in the office.

Don’t count on finding Duffy, former colonel Tom Foley, detective lieutenant Steve Johnson, or DEA agent Dan Doherty at the table to toast Kaiser. They were the four horsemen who led a tight unit of state cops that built the case against Bulger in the face of the FBI’s resistance. And they take a dim view of celebrating anything on January 5.

“The bureau’s image would be better off if they ran a fundraiser instead and used the money as a down payment on a civil settlement with the families of Bulger’s and Flemmi’s many victims,” Duffy says.

When told about the timing of Friday’s tribute to Kaiser, Bulger’s former leg breaker Kevin Weeks did what everyone except the victims’ families did. He laughed. On that January 5, in 1995, after Weeks learned about Flemmi’s arrest on the TV news, he paged Bulger, who had been on the road since Weeks had relayed Connolly’s warnings to him the last week of December 1994.

From personal experience, Weeks knows how inept and indifferent the bureau was as it tried to snare Bulger in those early years. In what could have been a fatal mistake, Bulger left his Mercury Grand Marquis in Long Island garage owned by relatives of Weeks’s in early 1995, before taking off in another Grand Marquis. The original Marquis sat there for six years, untouched. The bureau did come across it, in 1996, but never tried to process or fingerprint the car until the State Police requested it in 2001. Before turning it over, FBI agents checked it out, reported it wasn’t worth processing, and gave it to the State Police who promptly found a band-aid with Bulger’s thumbprint and enough blood for a sample identifying his DNA for the first time. And under the seat the Staties found a handbill for an Irish festival in Texas that had long since passed.

“Maybe Kaiser thinks he’s going to catch Whitey on the 5th,” laughed Weeks. Weeks took a plea deal from the feds a few years ago, took the state cops to Bulger’s burial sites, revealed his rancid secrets, did a stint in prison, and returned to the streets of South Boston last year.

Whether there’s an empty chair awaiting him or not, count on Bulger being there at the Parker House as much as Banquo’s ghost at the banquet.

“I don’t think Kaiser even knows it’s the anniversary or that the bureau pays any attention to the day,” says Bob Fitzpatrick, once the number-two guy in the FBI’s Boston office.

“They don’t give a shit in the bureau. Kaiser is already thinking about his new assignment. Bulger isn’t his problem anymore. They think Bulger is history. It’s over.”

Fitzpatrick has one of the bright roles in the FBI/Bulger scandal. A professional profiler, Fitzpatrick questioned Bulger in 1981, determined he was a psychopath, and recommended that the bureau dump him. Fitzpatrick lost. As supervisor, he testified in court this year, he found that people in the bureau were leaking information to Bulger, and worse yet, that one of the leakers was the special agent in charge! He reported them to headquarters.

“The bureau didn’t want to hear that their own people were leaking to the bad guys.” Before long, the tables were turned on Fitzpatrick. It appears the bureau even told his subordinates, the very people he had reported as the leaks, and Fitzpatrick was driven out.

“Bulger doesn’t matter to them,” he says. “The bureau’s job is terrorism now. Kaiser and the agents there now weren’t responsible for what happened with Bulger. They don’t own that shit. That’s the way they look at it. Bulger’s history and it’s time to move on.”

A History of Violence
Decades later, on hot days people in the North End could still smell the molasses that poured down Commercial Street in a high killing wave in 1919, when a giant molasses tank exploded in what became known as the Great Molasses Flood. History sticks. And the far-reaching scandal of what happened inside the Boston bureau of the FBI, involving murder, violence, and the corruption of a State House and a city — its culture, its law enforcement, and its media — can’t be washed away or wished away with toasts to a departing supervisor.

It sticks because Bulger is history and what happened within the Boston bureau of the FBI is history, “as sordid and rotten as any set of circumstances I’ve ever heard of,” retired State Superior Court judge Robert Barton told me a few years ago.

“You can’t have a society when people who uphold the laws violate them,” he said. “The FBI will have to live with a black mark for a generation in my humble opinion.”

But both the bureau and US Attorney Michael Sullivan continue to proclaim they are winning the war. “History doesn’t help us capture James Bulger. It distracts us from our purpose,” Sullivan pronounced in 2002 on the eve of the eighth anniversary of Bulger’s escape from justice.

When Sullivan said that, he threw the weight of his office behind defending the FBI from continuing questions as to why, given the bureau’s history of failure, the job of finding Bulger shouldn’t be turned over to the far more expert US Marshal’s Service. And he rebuffed the State Police/DEA team that had paired up with the federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak in cracking the case, finding the bodies, and turning Weeks and the killing lot of Bulger’s mobsters into government witnesses. That team’s efforts have been scattered to the winds.

“They were taken off the case upon the FBI’s insistence, when Kaiser was in charge, and told they could not conduct a fugitive hunt,” says Tom Foley, the former colonel of the State Police who led the team.

“To take your best people and move them further away instead of putting them in charge of directing the fugitive hunt is a huge mistake,” Foley observes. “The FBI is relying on agents who are new to the area and even new to the FBI. It’s like nothing changed.”

Yet at the bureau, Kaiser touts his improvement of the FBI’s relationships with law-enforcement agencies as a great accomplishment.

“If the FBI were a football team, they’d have the best offensive line in the league,” says former special agent Bob Fitzpatrick. “They never stop attacking.”

Back in San Diego, the cop who’d spotted the look-alike was hungry and driven in the best tradition of fugitive hunters. When he finally got through to the FBI’s specialist in investigating Bulger sightings in Southern California, he says, she was dumbfounded that he had pulled the five images of the Bulger look-alike from surveillance cameras while she had only the one. She’d spent hours looking through video and missed them all.

“I don’t think she knew what he looked like,” the cop told me. And because she waited until October 21 to get a better download from one of the surveillance cameras, the three-week-old video had already been erased, he says.

Instead, the agent distributed a still photo of Bulger to a group of Navy Seals, in case they spotted him because they train on the beach so much. The photo was old vintage, he says, when the bureau first handed it out in 1995.

Was it Bulger? One long-time associate who’s seen the video clips says he’s “70-30 it’s not.” A little too thin, a little too young, the guy is wearing shorts, after all. And there’s something else.

“On the escalator, the guy is holding onto the handrails. I was with him 25 years and he would never touch the handrails. He was always worried about germs.”

Worrying about germs was a luxury when he was back here in Boston, because he never had to worry about the FBI then. And he may not have to now.

Back in San Diego the other day, the cop told me he now wishes he’d tackled the guy and put him in a headlock. Meanwhile, that FBI agent in San Diego has gotten a promotion.

“Is it fair to say you have no clue where Whitey Bulger is?” I once asked Kaiser’s predecessor Charles Prouty.

“I’d have to say yes,” he answered. It was an honest answer, but not as candid as what another FBI supervisor told me in February 2000.

“The fact that he is still a fugitive after so many years is an embarrassment to every law-enforcement officer we work with,” said James Burkett. As I was leaving after the interview, the FBI spokeswoman warned me I better not use that because “embarrassment” wasn’t an operational statement when talking about Bulger.
Apparently, it still isn’t.

David Boeri, a long-time reporter for WCVB-TV (Channel 5), now covers local news and public affairs in-depth for WBUR radio (90.9 FM). He can be reached at dboeri@phx.com.

No comments: