The Hartford Courant

The FBI And `The Devil's Deal'

By TOM CONDON

July 30, 2000

I got an inkling of this story almost two decades ago, and it seemed impossible. My friend Ted Driscoll, a Courant investigative reporter, had been digging into the jai alai industry and uncovering a cornucopia of corruption: game-fixing, odds-fixing, mob ties, payoffs.

Then, in 1981, it really got interesting. Roger Wheeler, a Tulsa, Ok., businessman who headed World Jai Alai Inc., was gunned down outside an exclusive country club in his hometown. A crooked accountant and a mob leg-breaker, both close to the killing, were themselves bumped off.

The trail led to Boston, and there it ended. Detectives from Oklahoma, Connecticut and Florida couldn't get the time of day from federal law enforcement officials in Boston.

Driscoll began to think the unthinkable - that the FBI's Boston office was corrupt.

Ted never got to prove it; he died of cancer a couple of years later. But a young reporter in the newsroom in those years picked up the ball.

Dick Lehr joined The Courant in 1979 after graduating from Harvard. He got a law degree, was briefly a Connecticut prosecutor under Chief State's Attorney Austin McGuigan, and then became an investigative reporter at The Boston Globe.

Lehr and Gerard O'Neill have just written an astonishing book titled "Black Mass - The Irish Mob, The FBI and a Devil's Deal" (PublicAffairs) that shows Driscoll was right. Several agents of the FBI, the nation's elite law enforcement agency, had been compromised by a couple of the worst scum-buckets in Christendom, James "Whitey" Bulger and Steven "The Rifleman" Flemmi.

"Black Mass" ought to be required reading at the FBI Academy.

The FBI was under pressure to stop La Cosa Nostra in Boston, as elsewhere. The way to do it was to get informants, inside sources. The FBI put a premium on agents who could develop top-level informants.

John Connolly, a smooth-talking, ambitious agent, had grown up in the tightknit Irish enclave of South Boston, with the notorious Bulger. In the 1970s, Connolly lined up Bulger and his pal Flemmi as informants. They provided some help in bringing down Mafia boss Gennaro Angiulo.

But in the crime world, that was Macy's getting rid of Gimbels. With the Italian mob crippled, Bulger and his Winter Hill gang took over the rackets. Bulger's adventure with World Jai Alai was just an aside, it turns out, a place to launder money. With FBI protection, he took over loan sharking, protection, gambling and drugs.

When other law enforcement agencies such as the state police or DEA went after Bulger and Flemmi, the FBI either tipped the criminals off or got them removed from the indictment. As time went by, Bulger and Flemmi were socializing with Connolly and his boss, agent John Morris. Bulger gave Morris presents, of cash and expensive wine. Morris took them.

The foxes were not only operating the henhouse, they were running the farm.

Bulger had a Robin Hood image in the xenophobic precincts of South Boston. He was the older brother of Bill Bulger, powerful president of the state Senate and now president of the University of Massachusetts. Maybe Whitey was in some unsavory stuff elsewhere, but he'd take care of Southie and never let drugs into the neighborhood.

Hah. As Lehr and O'Neill show, Bulger and Flemmi ran the drug operation in Southie, poisoning their neighbors. Arrest and addiction rates there were as bad as in the rest of the city. For years, the two thugs literally got away with murder.

They might still be at it, but a new federal prosecutor in Boston, Fred Wyshak, a veteran of the New Jersey Mafia investigations, couldn't understand why his new office showed so little interest in Bulger.

He turned up the heat. In 1995 Connolly apparently tipped off his self-serving stoolies that indictments were on the way. Flemmi, perhaps not the brightest bulb on the tree, stuck around town and was busted. Bulger took it on the lam and hasn't been seen since.

Some 18 FBI agents either broke the law or violated federal guidelines, a federal judge found. Morris testified in return for a grant of immunity. Connolly was indicted and is awaiting trial.

They got away with this scheme for almost 20 years, and almost didn't get caught at all. The book raises a host of serious questions, not the least of which is: Who's watching the FBI?


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