Former bookie says he lied to protect ‘Whitey’ Bulger

Posted June 17, 2013, at 5:56 a.m.
Last modified June 17, 2013, at 11:56 a.m.

BOSTON — A former bookmaker testified at the trial of accused Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger on Monday that he lied to a grand jury in 1995 about his relations with Bulger’s gang, saying he did so out of fear.

Bulger, accused of leading Boston’s “Winter Hill” gang in the 1970s and ’80s, faces charges on racketeering and 19 murders he is accused of committing or ordering. If convicted, the 83-year-old defendant faces the possibility of life in prison.

One way Bulger’s gang made money was to demand tribute payments from small-time criminals, including bookmakers who ran illegal gambling operations, prosecutors say.

Former law enforcement officials testified last week that they sought out bookmakers, who could face violence at the hands of the “Winter Hill” gang, as sources of information on Bulger.

Richard O’Brien, 84, testified that he began working with Bulger’s gang in the early 1970s, and that the arrangement was helpful to enforce collections on debts he was owed.

“When we had a problem, the best thing I had was to say, ‘Do you want to speak with someone from Winter Hill?’” O’Brien testified.

But O’Brien said he was not truthful before a grand jury in 1995, knowing the possible consequences.

“Knowing what I did know, or what I thought I knew, I wouldn’t testify against those people because of the repercussions you could have,” he said.

In opening statements last week, Bulger’s lawyer described him as a mild-mannered criminal who engaged in illegal gambling, loan-sharking and drug dealing but not murder. Prosecutors portrayed him as a “hands-on” killer.

Bulger, who as a young man spent time locked up in the Alcatraz prison island off San Francisco and lived in hiding for 16 years before his 2011 arrest, has intrigued Boston for decades. His story inspired Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Academy Award-winning movie “The Departed.”

Jurors were expected to hear grisly details about Bulger’s alleged reign of terror later on Monday from John Martorano, who has admitted to killing 20 people and served 12 years in prison.

Bulger’s attorneys questioned the reliability of testimony of Martorano and of Bulger associates Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks, who also are expected to take the stand. The defense attorneys contend the men fingered Bulger for murders he did not commit in exchange for lesser sentences for their own crimes.

Bulger fled Boston after a 1994 tip from a corrupt FBI agent that his arrest was imminent. On the run, he was on the FBI’s “most wanted” list of criminals. (Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Douglas Royalty)

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