In Rare Lecture, US Attorney Details Role in Whitey Bulger Case

He's the lawman who locks up corrupt lawmen, and he's investigated everyone from wiseguys to CIA and FBI agents.

John Durham, Connecticut's top federal prosecutor.
John Durham.

Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford on Monday, March 5, 2018, gave a rare, candid speech about his role as a special prosecutor in the Whitey Bulger case.

Durham is among this country's most respected prosecutors and he's known for maintaining an extremely low profile. He's prosecuted mobsters, corrupt federal agents, and even a former Connecticut governor. He was empowered by United States attorneys general to investigate some of this nation's dirtiest laundry, including CIA operations that allegedly involved torture and coverups.

He was nominated by President Donald Trump, and was endorsed by Republicans and Democrats alike, to be Connecticut's top federal prosecutor. "Perhaps realizing that his new role calls for higher visibility, (he) delivered a lecture at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, a formerly all-female school that is going all co-ed this year and ratcheting up its criminal justice program," reported recently.

For about an hour he gave an insider's view of the investigations that brought down mobsters James "Whitey" Bulger, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, and their corrupt FBI handler, Special Agent John Connolly Jr.

The case expanded into Connecticut, where jai alai gambling venues were infiltrated by the Winter Hill Gang.

While investigating unsolved gangland homicides -- the bodies really started piling up in Boston in the 1970s and 1980s -- a determination was made in 1999 that the Boston FBI bureau had been compromised. Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh enlisted Durham and others to get to work.

"It was quite the scandal that was going up there in Boston," Durham told the audience at St. Joseph's, according to the "We were asked to go up there because we had some familiarity with the New England LCN (La Cosa Nostra) and knew some of the judges and the investigators and so forth. So the Justice Task Force was formed to investigate corruption involving the FBI and others."

"It was my view and remains my view that Lin DeVecchio provided information to (Colombo capo Gregory) Scarpa that got people killed."    -Judge Edward Korman 

In his lecture, Durham urged restraint when using informants. Noting they are a "necessity," he emphasized that they're also a "double-edged sword."

In the Boston case, Bulger and Flemmi were both FBI "Top Echelon" informants. They corrupted their handlers to the extent that FBI supervisor John Morris allegedly told Flemmi, "You can commit any crime as long as you don't 'clip' anybody."

"The reality was that both Bulger and Flemmi were notorious, really bad actors in Boston when they were recruited by the FBI as informants in Boston," he said.

Durham said the FBI had regulations in place when the two were recruited in the late 1960s, yet Bulger and Flemmi acted as if "they had the keys to the kingdom," bribing their handlers and using leaked information to help them to run narcotics trafficking, loan sharking, and extortion rackets. They are behind about 20 murders.

Informants should be the starting point of an investigation, Durham said, and their information should be corroborated or used to convince a judge to authorize wiretaps. The objective is to record the defendant's own words and use them to build the case against him.

After about a year, the investigation culminated with an indictment charging Flemmi and Connolly for racketeering and obstruction of justice. Bulger, at the time, was a fugitive and Connolly had retired from the FBI.

Flemmi pleaded guilty to racketeering and 10 murders and is serving a life sentence.

In 2002, Connolly (nicknamed, "Zip") went to trial. Durham prosecuted.

He said it was a "unique" proceeding in which the defendant was allowed to sit with his wife in the courtroom gallery. The prosecution team had made "the very difficult decision," after consulting with the U.S. attorney general and victim's families, to use as a witness John Martarano, a mob hitman who had confessed to killing 20 people.

Connolly was convicted and served 10 years. But he was arrested again for providing information to Flemmi and Bulger that led to the 1982 murder of jai alai executive John Callahan in Miami.

Today, Connolly, 77, is serving a 40-year prison sentence in Florida.

Bulger was captured in 2011 after 16 years on the lam. (I actually covered it, one of my first blog stories.) He's serving a life sentence.

Bulger's Winter Hill Gang was decimated by federal prosecutions, Durham said, and Cosa Nostra is "nothing like it was." But there's consequences, Durham said. The concentration of criminal activity becomes scattered.

It's difficult to recall the Bulger-Connolly case without remembering New York's seemingly similar case, with Colombo capo Greg Scarpa and his FBI handler, Lindley DeVecchio.

It's widely believed that in the 1990s, during the Colombo crime family war, federal prosecutors and FBI agents in New York knowingly allowed at least two mobsters working as paid informants to operate on the street and kill with impunity.

One judge, in an opinion buried in a 2012 court transcript, was not at all ambiguous about what he believed.

"It was my view and remains my view that Lin DeVecchio provided information to (Gregory) Scarpa that got people killed," Judge Edward Korman noted.

“I found it pretty outrageous and the bottom line was, of course, nothing happened to Lin DeVecchio. He was permitted to retire and in his retirement was actually doing background checks for the (FBI),”
the judge said.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s case against DeVecchio fell apart mid-trial when a key prosecution witness was contradicted based on recordings presented to the court.

Angela Clemente has waged an ongoing campaign to prove that the government ignored around 40 murders committed by paid turncoat gangsters.

Angela Clemente forensic investigator of organized crime
Angela Clemente

She's sued the Feds and used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain "more than 1,000 pages of previously classified material concerning Scarpa. (She's risked, literally, everything. One night, meeting a new source who claimed to have vital information, she was nearly beaten to death.)

In 2014, she told us that she'd proved that the FBI "positively" knew that two of its informants, Scarpa and soldier Frank "Frankie Blue Eyes" Sparaco, were committing murders while on the Feds' payroll.

The Colombo crime family's third war, from 1991-93, resulted in a dozen murders and more than 80 convictions.