Ex-FBI agent says agency ‘dropped the ball,’ clearing way for Whitey Bulger to murder two Boston men in 1982

A retired FBI agent today testified in the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger that the FBI failed to prevent the murders of Edward “Brian” Halloran and Michael Donahue, though the FBI had learned that Halloran, an informant, was in danger.

“I felt like we dropped the ball,” said Matthew Cronin, a former FBI agent who was assigned to the Boston bureau’s property crime squad in 1978.

Halloran and Donahue, an innocent bystander who was giving Halloran a ride home, were killed in May 1982, after they left a Boston bar. Bulger allegedly shot them, according to the testimony of his former protege, Kevin Weeks, who said he stood lookout.

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Cronin said he and another agent learned from a woman that Bulger’s partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, had learned that Halloran was cooperating with authorities — and Flemmi wanted him killed.

Cronin said the discussion was about Flemmi, however, and the woman did not discuss Bulger.

“I’m not sure if she knew him,” Cronin said.

Bulger, 83, is charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment that alleges he committed 19 murders. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is being held without bail.

In the fourth day of presenting their defense in US District Court in Boston, Bulger’s lawyers called Cronin in a bid to suggest that Flemmi wanted Halloran dead. But they also used him in an attempt to show that the Boston FBI was plagued with corruption at the time.

Cronin agreed that agents in the bureau kept their information to themselves so that it would not be leaked by others, and there was a growing concern about Connolly looking at other agents’ informant files.

“There was an aura within the office of ‘watch yourself,’” he said.

Cronin said several investigations were compromised because of leaks.

In one case, he was investigating Heller’s Café in Chelsea and said he met with supervisor John Morris regarding his targets. Connolly was there, and they asked him to remove three names from his target list.

Cronin said he later learned that the three men were informants.

Based on his suspicion of others, Cronin said, he did not record on paper the woman’s concerns that Flemmi wanted to kill Halloran. But he said he reported them to supervisors, including Jeremiah O’Sullivan, then head of an organized crime strike force.

Nothing was done.

Soon after, Halloran and Donahue were killed.

According to testimony in the trial, Connolly leaked to Bulger that Halloran had been cooperating with the FBI in an Oklahoma murder that Bulger had been involved in.