BOSTON — The FBI has paid a $2 million reward to a tipster who provided information that led to the arrest of fugitive crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger, according to a Las Vegas man who tried unsuccessfully to claim the reward.
Bulger, who was long one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives, was captured in June in Santa Monica, Calif., where he had been living in a rented apartment with his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig. Bulger, a longtime FBI informant, was wanted in connection with 19 murders. He fled Boston just before he was indicted in early 1995.
Keith Messina, a restaurant manager from Las Vegas, said he tried to claim all or part of the reward because he called the television show “America’s Most Wanted” in 2008 and reported seeing Bulger in Santa Monica.
Messina, 45, said Wednesday that he recently was notified by the FBI that it had rejected his claim and had paid the money to the tipster who provided information that led to the arrest of Bulger and Greig in June.
“That’s what they told my attorney, that they were writing the check as we speak,” Messina said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Messina said his attorney had called the FBI to see how they would go about filing a claim for the reward money. He said that after his attorney was told the reward had been given to someone else, he received a letter from the FBI saying his claim for it had been rejected.
“We still filed a claim,” Messina said. “They’re the ones who made a mistake. They would have had him three years ago. If they had followed my tip, they would have nailed him.”
Messina’s attorney, Michael Gowdey, was upset over the matter when speaking by telephone from Las Vegas on Wednesday.
“We all wonder exactly why the FBI would encourage people to make tips that they’re just going to ignore,” Gowdey said. “It took them two years and God-knows-how-much taxpayers’ money after Mr. Messina made the tip to come to the conclusion that they should check in the place that Mr. Messina told them originally.”
He said the FBI never responded to Messina and claimed it never acted on his tip, “but it is funny that ‘Whitey’ Bulger was arrested in exactly the spot that Mr. Messina reported to ‘America’s Most Wanted.'” He said he plans to file a lawsuit to contest the FBI decision to deny his client a share of the reward money.
Messina said he was in Santa Monica with his wife and children when he saw a man who resembled Bulger standing by a pier, wearing shorts and reading a thick book. He said that when a young couple walked by, Bulger appeared to notice the man’s shirt, which had some kind of Boston insignia on it.
“He said, ‘Hey, are you from Boston?'” Messina said. “Then they started talking about various places in Boston.”
Messina said he then looked on the “America’s Most Wanted” website, recognized the man he saw as Bulger and called staff members at the show to give them his tip. He said he later was told by the staff members that they had passed his tip along to the FBI.
Neither the FBI nor the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston would confirm whether the reward had been paid. A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said the FBI wanted to protect the identity of the tipster and information related to the reward would be released “if and when the time is appropriate.”
Authorities have said only that the tipster was a woman who saw a television news report about a publicity campaign in the manhunt for Bulger, now 82, and Greig, 60. The couple were captured within days after the FBI began the campaign.
Grieg is charged with conspiracy to harbor and conceal a fugitive. She and Bulger have pleaded not guilty.
Bulger’s lawyers were in court Wednesday to update a judge on discovery material turned over by prosecutors.
Attorney J.W. Carney Jr. said the defense has begun to go through thousands of documents but needs more time before it can report back to the court. A judge scheduled another status conference for Nov. 21.
Several people who say their family members were Bulger’s victims were in court.
Patricia Donahue, the widow of Michael Donahue, who was fatally shot in 1982, said she and her adult son, Tom Donahue, plan to attend every hearing.
“We started this knowing this would be a long haul, and we’re going to stick with it,” she said.
Tom Donahue said: “We want to be here for my father.”
Michael Donahue, a truck driver, was killed during a hit on a man who was cooperating with investigators against Bulger. Donahue gave the man a ride home. Bulger and another man are accused of riddling their car with bullets.