BOSTON — The top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts expressed skepticism Tuesday about mobster James “Whitey” Bulger’s claim that the government allowed him to commit crimes because he was an FBI informant.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said Bulger’s former co-hort, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, who was also an FBI informant, used a similar defense, which was rejected by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Being an informant in a criminal case does not in and of itself immunize you from crimes,” Ortiz told reporters during a break at a civil rights symposium.
Ortiz said the appeals court “held that being an informant, in and of itself, and certain representations by law enforcement agents does not provide sufficient or adequate immunity.”
Bulger, the former leader of the notorious Winter Hill Gang, is accused of participating in 19 murders beginning in the 1970s, while he was a top-echelon informant for the FBI. Bulger fled Boston in late 1994 after he was warned by his former FBI handler that he was about to be indicted.
Now 82, Bulger was apprehended last year in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run. Former Boston FBI Agent John Connolly Jr. was convicted of racketeering in 2002 for tipping off a Bulger associate about the upcoming indictment and protecting Bulger from prosecution.
Bulger’s lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., said Monday that Bulger should not be prosecuted because he was promised immunity by a “representative of the federal government” for past or future crimes. He said Bulger’s indictment “directly violated the immunity agreement that the defendant had bargained for, had relied upon, and had been promised.”
Carney would not say who made such a promise to Bulger, but said the agreement was made in the 1970s, when Bulger was recruited by the FBI to become an informant on the rival New England Mafia.
Carney’s claims were made in a defense motion asking that U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns recuse himself from presiding at Bulger’s trial, saying he expects to call Stearns as a witness on a request to dismiss the charges against Bulger. Stearns was a top prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in the 1980s.