When Whitey was the man

From the inside, looks at the onetime Boston bad guy and his empire

By Shelley Murphy
April 9, 2006
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Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger's Irish Mob
By Kevin Weeks
Regan, 283 pp., illustrated, $25.95

The Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century
By Howie Carr
Warner, 342 pp., illustrated, $25.95

A Criminal and an Irishman: The Inside Story of the Boston Mob-IRA Connection
By Patrick Nee, Richard Farrell, and Michael Blythe
Steerforth, 240 pp., $24.95

Rat Bastards: The Life and Times of South Boston's Most Honorable Irish Mobster
By John ''Red" Shea
Morrow, 304 pp., illustrated, $24.95

In the 11 years since notorious gangster James ''Whitey" Bulger fled Boston to evade federal racketeering charges, he's gone from local bad guy to international fugitive, posted alongside Osama bin Laden on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.

Now three of Bulger's former criminal associates, and one of his harshest critics, are hoping to cash in on Bulger's increasing notoriety with four recently published books about the 76-year-old gangster.

One is ''Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger's Irish Mob," by Kevin Weeks, Bulger's longtime partner in crime, and Phyllis Karas, an author from Marblehead and adjunct professor at Boston University.

Weeks, now 50, who turned government witness and spent five years in prison for assisting Bulger on five murders, offers the closest and most personal look at Bulger. He spent two decades at Bulger's side and says he felt betrayed two years after Bulger fled when he discovered that Bulger was a longtime FBI informant.

Weeks reveals in chilling detail how three victims were lured to a South Boston home on separate occasions in the 1980s, brutally murdered by Bulger and gangster-informant Stephen Flemmi, and then buried in the cellar.

He reveals that Bulger took a nap after each murder, appearing ''nice and relaxed," as if he'd just taken a Valium.

''Nothing seemed to relax him or make him feel quite so good as a murder," Weeks writes. Bulger is charged with 19 murders.

Weeks describes how retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. leaked information to Bulger, warned him to flee before his 1995 indictment, and then tried to derail the case. He also describes meetings with Bulger in Chicago and New York while Bulger was a fugitive.

An obvious omission in the book is Weeks's failure to name the dozens of police officers and FBI agents who allegedly pocketed bribes from Bulger. Weeks testified at the trial of Connolly that Bulger used to joke that ''Christmas is for cops and kids" as he doled out gifts and envelopes stuffed with cash to his corrupt law enforcement contacts.

When asked why he didn't disclose their identities in his book, Weeks said, ''Some of the cops are retired with good reputations. I didn't want to name them."

Still, Weeks has no qualms about attacking members of the media. He describes waiting in a cemetery across from Howie Carr's house with a rifle in the 1980s, then aborting his plan to kill the Boston Herald columnist because he stepped outside with his young daughter. In his column, Carr said he doesn't believe Weeks.

Though Weeks credits me with trying to factually report on Bulger's crew, he complains about ''media lies" in his book. He incorrectly reports that Boston Globe reporter Kevin Cullen fled to Europe after working on a 1988 Globe Spotlight Team report that revealed Bulger's special relationship with the FBI. Weeks said he regrets the error, and he apologized to Cullen last week.

In ''The Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century," Carr, also a radio talk show host for WRKO in Boston, chronicles the lives and careers of Bulger, the ruthless underworld leader, and his brother, William, the former president of the Massachusetts Senate and the University of Massachusetts. It's a comprehensive account that makes it easy for readers who are new to the Bulger saga to follow the story. But the book is mostly a compilation of what has already been reported in the Globe and the Herald and in a 2000 book, ''Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob" by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill, former Globe reporters.

Carr brings historical context to the saga and recounts stories of political payback, patronage, and suspected scandal involving William Bulger. But Carr offers no firm evidence linking William Bulger to any crimes.

The book is riddled with sloppy errors. Carr says corrupt former FBI supervisor John Morris testified during 1998 court hearings that William Bulger made an appearance while he and Connolly were dining with Whitey Bulger and Flemmi in the 1980s. Carr says another supervisor, James Ring, later corroborated that. But, in fact, Ring was the only witness to testify at the 1998 hearings that William Bulger, who lived next door, showed up for dinner at Flemmi's mother's house. William Bulger denied being there.

Carr also describes how Morris secretly met Whitey Bulger and Flemmi at a Boston hotel in 1981 and played a tape for them of an FBI-bugged conversation of Boston mafioso Gennaro ''Jerry" Angiulo bad-mouthing the two gangsters. Carr says Morris was so drunk he left the tape behind, and Bulger and Flemmi kept it, thinking they might use it against Morris if he got out of line.

Carr adopts an early version of the story that Flemmi gave during the 1998 hearings when he was trying to discredit Morris and get his racketeering indictment dismissed. During Connolly's trial four years later, Weeks testified that Connolly had taken the old Angiulo tape out of the FBI's Boston office in 1998 and asked him to send it to Flemmi's lawyer in a bid to discredit Morris.

The book also has the fugitive Bulger flying from Chicago to New York in September 1996, and picking up fake IDs from Weeks. A small point, perhaps, but Bulger took an Amtrak train to New York and was given the fake identification by an associate of Weeks's.

Carr writes that after William Bulger, then president of the University of Massachusetts, succeeded in hosting the first presidential debate of the 2000 campaign at the Dorchester campus, the candidates arrived while investigators were exhuming the remains of one of Whitey's victims. But Carr's timing is off. The body was found 19 days before the debate. And after finding a second body, investigators suspended digging four days before the event.

''A Criminal and an Irishman: The Inside Story of the Boston Mob-IRA Connection" reveals former Bulger associate Patrick Nee as an entertaining storyteller who pokes fun at himself, as well as others, especially Whitey. He describes immigrating to South Boston from Ireland at 8 years old and being bullied at school, partly because he stuttered, until he discovered the great equalizer: a bow and arrow, which he used to neutralize his aggressor.

Nee, who served time in prison for an armored car heist and gun-running, takes the reader through South Boston's Irish gang wars in the 1970s, when he and Bulger tried to kill each other before calling a truce and teaming up on crimes.

Much of the book focuses on Nee's allegiance to the outlawed Irish Republican Army, which included a mission that he says Bulger reluctantly supported in 1984 to ship seven tons of weapons to the IRA from Gloucester aboard the fishing trawler Valhalla.

''Rat Bastards: The Life and Times of South Boston's Most Honorable Irish Mobster" is a memoir by John ''Red" Shea, a drug dealer who worked for Bulger's organization. Shea, who abandoned a promising boxing career to run a cocaine ring that paid tribute to Bulger, spent 12 years in prison rather than cut a deal to cooperate against Bulger. The book is based on his philosophy that honorable men don't rat on anybody, under any circumstances.

Overbearingly cocky, Shea's book is mostly about his own prowess as a fighter. He describes angry confrontations with several Boston police officers, who were part of a Drug Enforcement Administration team that arrested him and 50 other drug dealers in 1990. But the officers, now retired, dispute his account, and one of them, Frank Dewan, accused Shea of trying to sell books with ''a lot of delusional and false bravado."

All four books provide insight into the era when Whitey Bulger ran South Boston. Weeks, who was touted by the government as a credible witness, provides the most revealing view of the gangster, with his stark and unapologetic portrayal of daily life with him.

Still, the final chapter of the Bulger saga remains a mystery. Where's Whitey?

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