The Providence Journal

The tale of a stand-up mobster and how he used the FBI
Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — The whispers were spreading around the newsroom of The Boston Globe.

It was the 1980s and state and local police were telling the newspaper’s investigative reporters that James J. “Whitey” Bulger, the powerful head of the Irish mob, was a snitch for the FBI.

How could that be? thought reporter Dick Lehr.

In South Boston, better known as “Southie,” Bulger was a feared and revered figure who had run the criminal rackets in the tight-knit Irish stronghold for decades. Bulger, the brother of prominent Massachusetts politician Billy Bulger, was considered a good bad guy. Sure, he’s a crime boss, but he was known to help his own and he supposedly abhorred drugs.

Whitey Bulger was the ultimate stand-up guy. Even a top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts and the FBI dismissed the talk as grumbling from local cops who weren’t smart enough to grab the elusive gangster.

A decade later, all those whispers turned out to be true. And, Lehr said, it was a lot worse than he could have ever imagined.

In a new book, Black Mass; the Irish Mob, the FBI and a Devil’s Deal, Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, veteran Globe reporters, present a disturbing and gripping tale about the FBI’s cozy relationship with Bulger and his top lieutenant, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi.

The relationship was so close that FBI agents entertained the gangsters in their homes and exchanged gifts. A supervisory FBI agent in Boston accepted $7,000 in cash from Bulger.

Simultaneously, Bulger and Flemmi used their FBI handlers to gain information on their enemies and to rise to the top of the Boston underworld. Among the crimes the FBI ignored was bookmaking, racketeering, drug trafficking and murder, including the slayings of several witnesses who had provided information against the gangsters.

Black Mass highlights the secret relationships that are at the core of law enforcement: police and their informants.

The book has been flying off bookstore shelves in Massachusetts and Rhode Island since its release last month. It’s already in its third printing, with 40,000 copies in circulation, and is the top-selling book in Massachusetts, according to amazon.com, the online book seller.

The authors will promote Black Mass in New York City and Washington, D.C., next month, and Miramax pictures has bought the option to make it into a motion picture.

Meanwhile, Bulger remains a fugitive who disappeared just before a federal grand jury indicted him on murder and racketeering charges in January 1995. The FBI has offered a $250,000 reward for information leading directly to his capture. And his FBI handler, John Connolly, faces racketeering and other charges.

After a series of hearings in U.S. District Court in Boston, Judge Mark L. Wolf found that 18 FBI agents, including Connolly and John Morris, committed crimes or violated federal policies in their dealings with the gangsters.

The book also has plenty of references to Rhode Island. Deceased New England crime boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca, his son, Raymond J. “Junior” Patriarca, and mobsters Bobby DeLuca and Anthony “The Saint” St. Laurent are mentioned.

There’s also a reference to Kenneth Guarino, a Rhode Island native, mob associate and international pornographer with ties to the Gambino crime family.

And Bulger, now 70, has his own Rhode Island history. Back in 1956, he was sent to Alcatraz federal prison for three bank robberies, including a $42,000 heist at the Industrial National Bank in the Darlington section of Pawtucket.

The relationship between Bulger and Connolly dates to the late 1940s, when both were growing up in South Boston. In the book’s prologue, the authors write about Bulger, then a rising criminal, buying the young Connolly and his chums ice cream cones in a corner drug store outside their housing project.

Years later, Connolly described the thrill of meeting Bulger similar to “meeting Ted Williams,” the legendary Red Sox slugger.

“I think that explains almost everything,” Lehr said.

In the early 1970s, Connolly, by then an FBI agent, was transferred from New York to Boston. He set out to renew his acquaintance with Bulger, who had become a prominent Boston gangster.

After a brief courtship, Bulger agreed to supply information to Connolly. (Flemmi had already been working as an informant with the FBI.) Over time, Connolly introduced the gangsters to Morris, his FBI supervisor.

The gangsters nicknamed Morris, “Vino” for his affinity for fine wines, and they regularly delivered him cases of wine.

Connolly and Morris tipped off Bulger and Flemmi to wiretaps and electronic bugs planted by investigators from the Massachusetts State Police, federal Drug Enforcement Agency, and Quincy police.

Those investigations soon died — along with some of the key witnesses.

On two other occasions, Morris accepted $7,000 in cash from Bulger — including $1,000 to have Morris’s secretary/mistress flown to a conference he was attending in Georgia.

To make matters worse, the FBI sent Morris to Miami to join an investigation into a corrupt FBI agent. (Morris, who no longer works for the FBI, has been given immunity from prosecution in exchange for future testimony.)

At one point, Connolly marched into the offices of The Boston Globe and met with editor Jack Driscoll. He was adamant that Bulger had never worked as an FBI informant, and, Lehr said, even denied ever having a conversation with the gangster.

The FBI cover-up and lies are among the most distressing details in the book. Connolly, the FBI and federal prosecutors set out to destroy the credibility of Lehr, O’Neill and other Globe reporters.

“We came to realize how powerful the FBI was at manipulation,” Lehr said.

Black Mass spells out how the FBI, perhaps the most powerful law enforcement agency in the world, with a reputation of being impenetrable, is no less susceptible to corruption than a local police department.