This week’s edition of Newsweek features an “exclusive” story under the two page headline, “Scapegoat.” The lengthy article relates to corrupt activities by FBI agents and federal prosecutors in Boston—particularly during the criminal reign of Irish mob boss James (Whitey) Bulger, a vicious murderer-turned-informant who was captured in 2011 after being on the lam for fourteen years.
The so-called scapegoat named in the story is imprisoned FBI agent John Connolly. He’s serving 40 years in federal prison for an array of crimes ranging from accepting bribes to second-degree murder, all of which stemmed from his relationship with Whitey Bulger. In Newsweek telephone interview, the disgraced agent claims, “The Justice Department is going to do everything within its power to try to make sure the full story never comes out.”
That may be true, though I doubt it. What I do know is revelations in the Bulger case couldn’t get much worse than a previously disclosed pattern of corruption involving other FBI agents and federal prosecutors in Boston over a span of 25 years. I don’t like to use technical language, but for Connolly to whine that he is a scapegoat is pure unadulterated bullshit. It’s the equivalent of describing Bin Laden as a scapegoat of 9/11 terrorism.
I first encountered John Connolly in 198o, a dozen years before he was finally exposed as a rogue, convicted and sentenced to prison. I was then working as an investigative reporter for WCVB, Boston’s ABC affiliate. My story was part of a series of reports about the reliability of informants. I attempted question Connolly regarding his tactics in dealing with snitches. My ambush interview attempt placed me on the FBI’s Ten Most Disliked Reporters list.
Connolly: “I can’t make any comment on it—none whatsoever.”
As I later wrote in a non-best selling memoir, Odyssey of a Derelict Gunslinger, my audacity in challenging an FBI agent earned me the enmity of Boston’s top federal prosecutor.
United States Attorney Edward Harrington accused me of being a “tool of organized crime” because I questioned Connolly’s tactics in pursuit of a notorious art thief named Myles Connor, who was accused of double murder in a case in which he had no motive and evidence was so thin that prosecutors offered get-out-of-prison-free cards to the worst kinds of vicious criminals. “Sure, I’ve beaten, robbed, maimed and killed,” they testified. “But I would never tell a lie.” Connor was eventually acquitted.
The U.S. prosecutor’s portrayal of me was because I committed the unpardonable transgression of ambushing Agent Connolly to question him about an attempt to recruit a prison escapee as an informant in order to frame a public official. After refusing comment, Connolly hightailed it down the street like a fleeing Mafia figure.
Twenty-two years later, my suspicions about the agent’s misconduct were confirmed on a much bigger scale in the worst informant scandal in FBI history. But Connolly’s corrupt legacy didn’t end there.
In November 2008, he was convicted of Second Degree murder in a mob hit of former World Jai Alai President, John B. Callahan whose body was found in a car trunk at Miami International Airport.
Connolly’s convictions related to his friendship with James (Whitey) Bulger, a gang leader in the South Boston Irish neighborhood where the agent grew up. Bulger paid bribes to the Connolly for leaking information to him of ongoing FBI investigations, as well as identifying cooperating witnesses. The relationship between Connolly and Bulger was the basis of the 2006 Academy Award winning movie, The Departed.
John Connolly was a protégé of another rogue FBI agent, Paul Rico who helped frame four innocent men in a 1967 mob murder. It turned out that a Rico informant was the actual triggerman. Even though the agent and other lawmen knew the snitch was lying, he was the main witness against the innocent men. Rico’s misconduct remained a secret for almost three decades. Meantime, two of the defendants died in prison, and the other pair served more than thirty years.
Ironically, the prosecutor in the case was Edward Harrington, the U.S. Attorney who called me a “tool of organized crime.” Truth of the frame-up finally emerged in August, 2007, when a federal Judge ordered the government to pay $101-million in damages to the wrongly convicted men and/or their surviving families.
Following retirement from the FBI, Paul Rico became head of security for World Jai Alai. And in the course of the Connolly investigation, Rico was linked to the murder of another pari-mutuel company executive.
A year before John Callahan was killed, Roger Wheeler was shot to death in the parking lot of an exclusive Tulsa, Oklahoma golf club. Whitey Bulger associate, John Martorano, admitted pulling the trigger. Former FBI agent Rico allegedly arranged the contract killing. in January 2004, prior to Rico’s case going to trial, Connolly’s mentor died at the age of 78.
Whitey Bulger’s trial for multiple murders is scheduled for November. In claiming a cover-up, Connolly accuses the feds of doing everything possible to avoid testimony that would be embarrassing to officials not already linked to corruption in Boston. According to Newsweek, some legal observers are also suspicious of the Justice Department’shandling of the case.
“The prosecution of Bulger is being carefully orchestrated,” says Harvey Silverglate, a renowned Boston criminal-defense attorney and author who has written about the case. Silverglate uses the word “cover-up” to describe the prosecution’s motives, adding, “If they wanted to convict Bulger swiftly, they could have tried him in California on gun-possession charges. Would have been an open-and-shut case. He’d have received a 30-year sentence. Or in Oklahoma, where one of the murders occurred; they have the death penalty. But the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston is not about to let this case out from under its control. Because then details might come out that show a pattern of secrecy and cover-up going back generations.”
Harvey Silverglate and I are longtime good friends. Indeed, I interviewed him for the aforementioned 1980 exposé in which I confronted John Connolly. And ever since, I have consulted Harvey on issues dealing with the criminal justice system. He even gave my book a nice plug. But I disagree with my friends Newsweek comments about the location of Bulger’s trial. I believe the families of victims he murdered and/or ordered killed deserve to see him face trial in the city where the crimes occured.
I don’t mean to take too much credit for my early story about Connolly, but I can’t help but wonder if some of Bulger’s victims would still be alive if the Justice Department had taken heed of the agent’s misconduct in 1980. Instead, he was honored with a decoration two weeks following my report for his work in securing convictions of other Boston mobsters—all of whom were Whitey’s competitors in the crime business.
Now, ain’t that a coincidence?
My memoir, Odyssey of a Derelict Gunslinger: A Saga of Exposing TV Preachers, Corrupt Politicians, Right-Wing Lunatics…and Me is available at amazon.com, soft-cover or Kindle and at independent bookstores like the Cottonwood in Baton Rouge. It offers $19.99 worth of laughs and much more. The book is an account of my illustrious (I choose the adjectives) investigative reporting career.