An ugly saga for both sides
The past 13 years have been one long setback for the remnants of the New England mob. But yesterday will be remembered as the day the lights went out. It's done.
Even in the unlikely event that James J. "Whitey" Bulger and his henchman Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi someday prevail on appeal, no one will ever fear the mob again, not after the pathetic defense they offered in US District Judge Mark L. Wolf's courtroom during a pretrial hearing to dismiss charges because the mobsters were protected by the FBI.
Forget about the trial, someday, of Bulger and Flemmi. Forget all the lore about Whitey's disappearing acts, his flair for outfoxing the law.
Judge Wolf's ruling completes a debacle for both organized crime and organized law enforcement. It's been a downright ugly saga, full of more bumbling, amateurish behavior than Jimmy Breslin's "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight."
Much has been made of the revelations of unprofessional, possibly illegal, conduct by some agents in the Boston FBI office, and rightly so. At the very least, the months of hearings in Wolf's courtroom provided strong evidence that rogue agents allowed virtual free rein to the criminals they publicly claimed to be combating.
Yet the hearings that pitted the unprofessional agents against the incompetent mobsters revealed how much they had in common, and how far both enterprises had fallen.
Since the 1986 trial that sent away the heart of the New England mob, its activities have become more and more embarrassing.
"Gerry Angiulo was said to be pretty smart," one former federal law enforcement officer said yesterday. "With each successive prosecution, the people who were left were dumber and dumber. They didn't control the organization, they didn't have the discipline. You could see it in the way they did dumb things and got caught."
Never was that more evident than in 1989 when Raymond "Junior" Patriarca called a local radio talk show to complain that he was being unfairly maligned.
It took a crazy, murderous turn in the Steak Tip shootings in Charlestown in 1995, a rumble between wannabes who would've been spanked and sent to their room back when there was a real mob in town. The toll of the stupidity that afternoon over lunch: four killed, one wounded, three arrested.
Now, we've been treated to mobsters in a courtroom offering the absurd defense that the government said it was OK to be criminals. They said the government told them they could commit any crime short of murder. Flemmi can't be blamed for attempting to turn the tables by trying the government itself. But he never stood a chance.
Wolf will be criticized for doing nothing after months of hearings on the alleged misconduct, for wasting time and wasting money. In fact, he did the only thing he could have done. He gave the charges a full and fair hearing, and hugely embarrassed federal law enforcement in the process. But no federal judge would quash indictments of mobsters despite official misconduct.
Unfortunately, there will be more hearings. Those will concern whether Flemmi's information was improperly presented to a grand jury. But Flemmi's chances of being unindicted are far less then your chances of winning Powerball tonight, and his codefendants might do well to plead out as soon as possible and toss themselves on the mercy of the court. Flemmi, after all, is already in prison, and another of New England's leading mobsters has been underground for well over four years.
There may be other prosecutions to come. US Attorney Donald Stern has pointedly not ruled out going after the FBI special agents who have been accused of facilitating Bulger and Flemmi's crime careers. Wolf, in his ruling, quoted Lord Acton: "Every secret thing degenerates, even the administration of justice."
In the meantime, there don't seem to be many major league criminals left in New England to sustain true big-time organized crime. The way things stand, there may not be any.
We've always known that mobsters are vicious, murderous thugs. And it isn't a total shock that some law enforcement officers can be as deviant as the people they prosecute. But these hearings were highly unusual. Rarely have those on both sides of the law enforcement fence been locked in such a dance of corruption, ineptitude, and destruction.
Adrian Walker's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.