The murderer-in-chief of the Boston Mob, Whitey Bulger, has now been arrested, but the godfather of the mob, William Bulger (known as Billy), is still at large. Until Whitey's brother, William Bulger, is brought to justice, there will be no occasion for celebration.
Without William Bulger, there would have been no Whitey Bulger. Killer Whitey would have remained a petty criminal were in not for the protection he reportedly got from his Godfather Billy. While Whitey Bulger was climbing the ladder of crime in Boston, Billy was climbing the ladder of politics. Of course in Boston, the separation between crime and politics was often a matter of degree.
William Bulger became president of the Massachusetts Senate and then, quite remarkably, the president of the University of Massachusetts — until a courageous governor, Mitt Romney, pressured him to resign by threatening to appoint me and other Bulger critics to the Board of the University.
Billy Bulger’s point man — his consiglieri — was his childhood friend, John Connolly, the FBI agent who was Whitey Bulger’s handler. It was reportedly John Connolly who tipped off Whitey to the fact that he was about to be arrested, thus allowing him to remain at liberty for 16 years.
It was Billy who then arranged to have a secret phone conversation with his fugitive brother from the phone of a neighbor. No one knows what was discussed on that call, except that Billy acknowledges he did not tell his brother to turn himself in.
John Connolly is now serving life imprisonment in Florida for conspiracy to murder and related corruption charges. Billy Bulger continues to be accepted as a respected elder of the Boston political establishment. If Connolly were willing to testify, he could probably put William Bulger in prison in exchange for a reduction in his own sentence. But Connolly is a good soldier who is unlikely to roll over on his godfather.
I’ve been writing about the unsavory connection between the brothers Bulger, various FBI agents, and federal and state prosecutors for nearly 20 years. A few other journalists have also been willing to expose to the wider public the undisputed facts that are widely known within the statehouse community in Boston.
When I first started to write critically of William Bulger, I got an anonymous late-night phone call from somebody who said, “When you mess with Billy, you’re messing with Whitey. Watch your back.”
Everyone in Boston knew that messing with Billy was messing with Whitey, but even more important, everyone knew that messing with Whitey was messing with Billy. It was widely thought that Billy Bulger’s job was to protect Whitey and to keep him out of prison. He did his job well until now.
When a courageous state trooper arrested Whitey at Logan Airport, Billy arranged for him to suffer at work to the point that he ultimately killed himself. If that message wasn’t clear enough to law enforcement, Billy sent another: Those law enforcement agents who helped Whitey would get state jobs and post-retirement jobs in private industry through the good offices of the godfather.
As I wrote more than a decade ago: “It was Connolly’s friendship with William Bulger, and Connolly’s hope of capitalizing on it financially, that led him to give Whitey a blank check on committing crimes, including a heads-up on wiretaps and a head start in evading arrest . . . Godfather Billy made his homeboy Connolly an offer he couldn’t refuse: cash, career opportunities, and other considerations in exchange for protecting his bad brother Whitey from the real cops.”
Not only did Connolly keep the murderous Whitey out of prison and in business for decades, but he also tried to keep the good brother Billy out of prison. Billy was suspected of extorting a quarter-million-dollar bribe from the Boston developer who was building a skyscraper at 75 State Street.
According to an assistant U.S. attorney who testified at the Connolly trial, during the 75 State Street extortion investigation, Connolly improperly lobbied him to drop the scrutiny of this “special person.”
Connolly also tried — unsuccessfully — to milk the prosecutor for confidential information about the probe. It turned out, moreover, that the chief federal prosecutor in charge of investigating Billy Bulger’s corruption happened to be Whitey Bulger’s handler. The entire “investigation” of William Bulger was a sham.
Everyone in Boston politics knew that William Bulger was a crook and a protector of Whitey, yet he was kowtowed to by leading politicians such as Michael Dukakis and Bill Weld, who knew that if you didn’t pay homage to the godfather, you could not succeed as governor.
It was impossible to work in Boston politics without playing ball with — and facilitating — Boston’s most powerful criminal family.
Now that Whitey Bulger’s in jail and John Connolly’s in prison, the time has come to focus on William Bulger.
A truly independent counsel should be appointed to investigate the reign of terror that the brothers Bulger inflicted on Boston. As in other organized crime cases, deals should be offered to the lower-ranking members of the organization, including Connolly and Whitey Bulger, in order to get to the top man, William Bulger.
Along the way, many unpleasant facts will probably be exposed about other Boston political figures. But as Justice Brandeis, who tried to clean up Boston politics a century ago, once observed, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Too little sunlight has been allowed to shine on William Bulger, and the result has been a festering sore on Boston for too many years.
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