Somehow people with names like, Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi, Billy “the Wild Guy” Grasso, Arthur “Bucky” Barrett, and James “Whitey” Bulger seem like characters in a gum shoe gangster movie. Opposite them would be the good guys, Federal Agents John Morris and John Connolly, Jr., FBI, the State Police and the local police. But you can not measure the quality of a person by their name or title. Sometimes truth is stranger than Hollywood could hope to imagine.
People with titles, especially those who think a title gives them superior rights to those of their fellow citizens, are capable of greater evil than an honest crook. There are those who truly believe that motive of law enforcement should not be questioned or that those who hold the government trust should not be subject to the laws that govern the rest of us. The fewer restraints on power, the greater seduction to evil. As Thomas Hobbes once said, all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In the early 1950’s and 1960’s, Boston appeared to be a no man’s land of warring organized crime factions. Reputed crime figures were found shot to death. One victim was left in the trunk of a car parked at a hotel on the Neponset River. It was a public example to those might cross the local bosses. From an outsider’s point of view, the struggle was between the Italian Mafia, said to be centered in Boston’s North End, and what some people called the Irish mafia which hailed from the slums of Charlestown, South Boston and Somerville. The Winter Hill gang was the best known of these.
Gambling, in those days before state run lotteries, had replaced illegal alcohol as the prime criminal enterprise. There were scandals about Police protecting bookie shops. There were rumors of protection money being extorted from merchants. There was even a bookie running an illegal betting line from the State House.
This was the same era John F. Kennedy would make his meteoric rise from unknown, to junior senator, to president. On the local level, a South Boston Politician by the name of William Bulger would start his rise to power in the Democratic Party. A consummate politician, Billy Bulger became speaker of the Massachusetts Senate and undoubtably one of the most powerful people in the state. His brother John, was Chief Justice of the Juvenile court in Boston. Both honored leaders of the Democratic Party and respected members of the community.
It must have been about the same time that Michael Flemmi joined the Boston Police Department. Michael eventually became a Police Sergeant whose primary duty was to photograph crime scenes. Richard Schneiderhan was at the beginning of a long State Police career. He would eventually retire as a Lieutenant. Agents Connolly and Morris also would have been starting their FBI carriers in those turbulent years following the Kennedy assignation.
The Flemmi brothers, Vincent, Michael and Stephen, were friends of Billy Bulger’s brother James “Whitey” Bulger. They were, for a time, neighbors in South Boston. Now Whitey had the reputation of being somewhat of a rouge but people in Southie (as South Boston is called) kind of winked. Whitey had good press and never seemed to really get caught at doing anything bad except, perhaps, a little gambling and a short temper. People did not think too much of it when Stephen (called the “Rifleman”) Flemmi’s girl friend disappeared. People were always leaving the old neighborhood. Her close friends complained that when they tried to get the authorities to look into the matter, the FBI seemed to do more to frustrate the investigation than to help it. The FBI had more important things to do than look for one lost girl. Nor was much thought given to Tommy King dropping from sight after fighting with Whitey Bulger in a Southie Bar. After all, it was not a good thing to make enemies of the Bulgers.
As time progressed, the FBI was able to crack down on the Italian Mafia. When “Teddy” Deegan, a small time hood from Charlestown was killed in 1965, the FBI got a break. It made a deal with Joseph “the Animal” Barboza to testify against the Mafia. Barboza fingered Joseph Salvati and three other men. They were convicted on Barboza’s testimony and given life prison sentences for the murder. No one believed their story that they were being framed for something they had not done. Their convictions were sealed by the testimony of the FBI. It was mostly the work of agent H. Paul Rico who was praised for cracking the Mafia. But Barboza was not the only thug Rica was making deals with. That information, however, was withheld from Salvati’s lawyer. When Bill “The Wild Guy” Grasso was murdered in 1989, the four mobsters charged with the crime claimed the FBI had set them up. But who would believe that of the FBI? One by one the Mafia leaders were tracked down and put behind bars by the work of the FBI using under cover agents or informants. The crimes usually involved gambling, loan sharking and other such rackets.
When the Winter Hill Gang’s first leader was caught by authorities in the 70’s after an informant’s tip, Whitey Bulger took over. He always seemed to be one step beyond the FBI. Even when Whitey was indited in 1995, he evaded Federal agents by disappearing shortly before he was to be arrested. He remains free to this day as one of the government’s top fugitives.
Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi, Whitey’s close associate and reputed hit man for the Winter Hill Gang, was not so lucky. He got caught in 1997. He boasted that they would never prosecute him, but they did. His defense was imaginative. He claimed that even though he was a hit man, he had been given immunity from prosecution. You see, he claimed, he and Whitey Bulger worked for the FBI. Agent Rico had recruited him in 1965. Agent John Connolly, Jr. had been his handler. Connolly had approved of what Flemmi had done. Thus, the argument went, Flemmi could not be prosecuted.
The impartiality of the presiding Federal Judge was challenged. It seems the Judge had been in the U. S Attorney’s office when all this took place and was said to have been involved in the oversight of Connolly’s actions as was Governor Weld of Massachusetts. The presiding justice refused to disqualify himself and denied Flemmi’s claim of immunity.
Following close on Flemmi’s revelations came the confession of one Kevin Weeks, close associate of White Bulger. Not only did Weeks confirm Flemmi’s story, Weeks knew were the bodies were buried. . . literally. Not far from where a bullet riddle gangster had been abandoned in the trunk of a car in the mid 1960’s, the Neponset marshes began to give up its secretes. The first three to be found had been moved to the marshes when the Southie house beneath whose basement they reposed was about to be sold.
Deborah Hussey, daughter of Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi’s girl friend; Arthur “Buckey” Barrett; and John McIntyre were all found in the same hole. McIntyre had gone to the police, then the FBI, shortly before his disappearance. He had offered to testify against Bulger and Flemmi implicating them in gun running. Deborah had asked too many questions about her mother’s disappearance. At another location along the Neponset, Deborah Davis, Flemmi’s girl friend was found. She was going to leave him when she disappeared in 1981. The sordid matter began to unravel.
Others began to come forward. Small businessman Stephen Rakes told a chilling story of how in 1984 he had been forced to sell his liquor store to Whitey Bulger when Bulger, Weeks, and Flemmi walked in and announced that they were buying the business for a fraction of its price. Rakes feared for his life and that of his family. He asked the help of a relative in the Boston Police who then went to Agent Connolly of the FBI. Rakes was left with the impression that there was nothing he could do. He feared for his family. The first time he was called before a Grand Jury investigating Bulger, he lied. Rakes was not the only businessman to suffer.
The Winter Hill gang murdered police informant Richard Castucci in 1976. Louis Litif, an informant for over 15 years, was killed in 1980 as was informant Brian Halloran. In each case, it was believed that the FBI tipped Whitey Bulger that these informants were a threat to him. Agent Connolly was indited for giving information to Bulger that lead to at least three murders. It is believed that Bulger was responsible for some 17 deaths while acting as an informant for the FBI and being protected by Agents. No remorse was shown by the FBI Agents who tried to justify protecting Bulger. Their excuse was that Bulger was too valuable an informant to be exposed. In essence, the FBI had gone into business with one organized crime boss to put his competition out of business. They accepted the “information” of murders to incarcerate gamblers.
By the time Bulger was indited in 1995, Connolly had retired. Bulger had a replacement. A telephone tap caught Whitey complaining to Agent Morris, FBI about the incitement. After all, Morris was on Whitey’s payroll. Morris, at one time the FBI’s Organized Crime Squad’s supervisor, had provided the evidence for the conviction of the Angiulo brothers on racketeering. The Angiulos were competitors of Bulger. Morris was now himself charged. So too was retired State Police Lieutenant Richard Schneiderhan and several members of his family. Lt. Schneiderhan had worked in the Attorney General’s office. He tipped Bulger off to the fact his phone lines were being tapped. Boston Police Sergeant Michael Flemmi, on the force for 32 years, was charged with hiding guns for his brother Stephen. Supposedly he moved the guns from the family home in Southie to avoid a police search. Supposedly he provided guns, silencers and phoney police badges for his brothers and the Winter Hill Gang. Agent John Newton, FBI, who worked with Connolly, was accused of lying to frustrate the investigation into FBI wrong doing. He claimed that Morris had authorized Connolly to allow Bulger and Flemmi to do anything short of murder. Agents Newton and Connolly, however, were identified by a minor gang member of taking bribes from Bulger and Flemmi. Morris admitted to taking money.
Rival gangsters whom Whitey had informed on were not pleased with the information that Whitey was in partnership with the FBI. They were not happy that Whitey was fingering other people for crimes he had committed. In 1999, John Martorana, confessed hit man, admitted to killing people for Bulger, including Tommy King, whose crime was to get involved in a bar dispute with Bulger, and millionaire businessman Roger Wheeler, chairman of the Telex Corp. Wheeler was killed in Oklahoma in 1981. Wheeler apparently caught the Winter Hill Gang skimming money from his Wold Jai Alai businesses which operated from Connecticut to Florida.
Ripples from this disclosure led to incitements for killings in Oklahoma and digging for bodies in Florida and Nova Scotia. Whitey was credited with 19 killings and Stephen Flemmi, 10 including the 1982 murder of financier John Callahan in Miami.
Under the guise of hunting “bad” guys, the “good’ guys allowed at least one murder to take place, provided information they had reason to believe would result in three more murders, turned a blind eye to other murders, and turned a blind eye to extortion and threats against both good and bad people. They let four innocent men go to jail for a crime they did not commit, an act that effected not only the men wrongly accused but their families. No good ever comes from making a deal with evil.
On May 4, 2001, Joseph Salvati, was released after spending more than 30 years in prison for the murder of Teddy Deegan, a murder he did not commit. He tearfully testified before Congress as to how his conviction had affected his wife and children. Peter J. Limone, also falsely convicted, gained his release. The two other men, however, died in prison before the truth came to light. Records just released indicate that Agent H. Paul Rico, had been informed two days before Deegan’s death that Deegan was going to be killed. The FBI did not intervene to stop the murder. That same informant identified Barboza and Vincent Flemmi as the killers. This was all withheld and the testimony given by the FBI helped convict four men they should have known were innocent. The did this to protect their “informant” Flemmi. There has been no indication of remorse from the FBI officials involved.
The lesson to be learned is not of cops and robbers. In this instance, the two are indistinguishable. The ends do not justify the means. Violating even one person’s rights can not be justified by some claim it is for the greater good. We are a nation of laws. No one should be above the law. Although we are a nation of laws, those laws have to be applied by men and women who are no better or worse than their fellow citizens. Having a badge is not a guarantee of integrity.
Ultimately power comes from the ability to apply force. The criminal applies force to take from others what he or she wants. The good person only applies force to protect himself or others from the attacks of bad people.
If we keep shifting law enforcement powers to the Federal Government, who will stand against rogue Federal Agents? If we allow only the police and military to have guns, then what do you do when the person who attempts to extort money from you replies to your threat to call the police with the statement, “I work for the police.”?
All the information for this article was gleaned from Boston newspapers, primarily the Boston Globe.
This article was reprinted from Women&Guns, Copyright © Karen MacNutt