As anyone who follows current events knows, and as Whitey Bulger himself knew would happen, the 83-year-old career criminal was convicted this week of enough murders and other crimes to send him to prison for whatever remains of his life.
There could not be a better time for the book "Whitey Bulger: America's Most Wanted Criminal and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice," by Kevin Cullen and Shelly Murphy to appear. Cullen, a columnist for The Boston Globe, appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal to discuss the book with host Pedro Echevarria.
Cullen began by explaining who Bulger is, that he successfully corrupted the FBI going back as far as 1975 and was allegedly involved in as many as 69 murders, making him one of the most prolific serial killers in American history. Boston was notorious as a center for Irish gangs, rather than the Sicilian gangs that prevailed elsewhere. He was able to conduct many of his activities under arrangements with the FBI to thwart local law enforcement authorities, with the connivance and approval of FBI headquarters in Washington.
The author rattled off some of the four murders Bulger was accused of committing within a two-year period back in the early 1980s, including a businessman in Oklahoma, a Boston businessman killed in a gangland hotel in Miami and a corpse found on the waterfront in Boston. He described the trial, which was based on a mountain of evidence that took nearly two months to present, with the defense taking only a week. The case featured a parade of killers, thugs and drug dealers who cut deals with the prosecution.
The defense countered with just about the only strategy available — to impeach the credibility of the prosecution witnesses on the ground that they could not be trusted to tell the truth, for after all, they were killers, thugs and drug dealers who had made deals with the government to tell the story the government wanted them to tell.
Further, the defense argued that the only available punishment for the abusive conduct of the government would be to let the defendants walk free. (This is the philosophy embodied in the so-called "exclusionary rule" — that acquittal is the only remedy for misconduct by the government when, for example, it obtains evidence by unconstitutional means.)
Whitey Bulger conceded that he made millions from dealing drugs, but he cultivated an image as a "scrupulous" gangster who kept drugs out of "Southie." Ironically, however, according to Cullen, Southie was the worst neighborhood in Boston for drugs. The defense elected not to offer Whitey as a witness, because it would have opened up an unlimited field for cross-examination, including an alleged rape when he was in the Air Force in 1956 and a bank job in which he gave up his accomplices to the FBI. Whitey was determined above all to maintain his image as one who would never "rat" on other gangsters.
An intriguing subplot was the role of Bulger's brother Bill, who stood by his brother during the trial. On the surface, this could be a story like the movie plot about the brothers, one of whom grew up to be a murderer, while the other joined the priesthood; or like the commercial about the NBA basketball player Chris Paul, whose twin brother is an insurance agent. Bill achieved fame as a powerful Massachusetts senator and later as president of Boston University, but Cullen suggested Bill seemed not to mind that an element of fear affected his political relationships, because his brother Whitey was a suspected serial killer. This is a version of the adage that a good argument and a gun are more persuasive than a good argument alone.
Another part of Whitey's legend was that he had shot up the front entrance of The Boston Globe. Then after the management put additional security in front, he gleefully shot up the back of the building. Whitey joked that he was boosting the economy by promoting the employment of security guards. Cullen stated that in 1988, an FBI agent called him at The Globe and warned him that he would be murdered if he wrote that Whitey had been an informant. Cullen charged that the FBI got the worst of its dealings with Whitey and protected nearly all of the handlers who had conferred on Whitey a license to kill, and they usually retired with full benefits. He added that a 600-page judicial report on FBI corruption has languished.
In conclusion, Cullen allowed that, "At the end of the day, the FBI doesn't shoot people in the back of the head." Asked why the jury took so long to deliberate, Cullen responded that the jurors were being thorough but that the judge had reminded them that conviction on only two counts would be sufficient to support a sentence for racketeering. Cullen expressed an attitude of resignation as to the role of the jury: "It is what it is."
I could only imagine, if it is this easy for gangsters to co-opt the FBI, that it could hardly be difficult for corrupt bankers to infiltrate that banking agencies and turn regulators to their ends.
Note: For background on the methods gangsters used to manipulate both political parties, Cullen recommended a 2004 autobiography by Robert Cooley, a former Mafia lawyer and informant, titled "When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down." Thankfully he didn't add to the subtitle something about saving Michigan Avenue from Milwaukee Street.
I would recommend another book, "Chicago Confidential," by Lee Mortimer and Jack Lait, made into a movie in 1957, for the same purpose. Readers in New York might turn to "New York Confidential," by the same authors, made into a 1955 flick starring Broderick Crawford and Richard Conte.
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