Mob underling's tale of guns, drugs, fear

Weeks before his death, McIntyre felt 'trapped'

By Dick Lehr
Globe Staff / February 27, 2000
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His body was dug up last month from a makeshift grave in Dorchester, a recovery that answered at long last a question that had haunted family and investigators since his 1984 disappearance: Whatever happened to John L. McIntyre?

Although he had always been presumed dead, no one knew for certain. Now, there are some answers to another part of the mystery - why he was killed.

The questions are answered in McIntyre's own and virtually last words, contained in a transcript obtained by the Globe of a debriefing session with investigators six weeks before his death. In it, McIntyre described the military-style manner in which James J. "Whitey" Bulger ran his criminal enterprise. He talks about marijuana and cocaine smuggling and gives a rich account of the IRA gunrunning operation named after the fishing boat, Valhalla, he worked on and which was used to carry 7 tons of weapons to an IRA trawler.

The transcript also revealed that McIntyre feared for his life and was desperately seeking police help to get free of the mob. "I'd just like to start living a normal life," the 32-year-old said on Oct. 14, 1984. "I just sometimes feel like I'm trapped in this whirlpool and I can't get out of it."

Over time, a vague outline of McIntyre's fate has surfaced publicly - that after he offered to cooperate against Bulger and his sidekick, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, the gangsters found out and allegedly killed him.

But what a shaken McIntyre actually said during his bid to come in from the cold had never been revealed, and the transcripts provide a chilling glimpse of a man who was in over his head and had had enough of the dark side. "It's almost like living with a knife in you," he said about the underworld. "I didn't start out in life to end up like this, you know."

He was a man turning to the government for help but who, together with the investigators with him that night, was unaware that the strongest arm of the government, the FBI, was deeply entangled in a corrupt alliance with Bulger and Flemmi.

Talking into the tape recorder during the initital debriefing on a Sunday night, McIntyre mentioned Patrick Nee, a Bulger associate; Kevin Weeks, a Bulger underling; and "the one guy above him," a reference to Bulger himself who, if angered, "he'll just put a bullet in [your] head." In all, it was a tense, emotional session.

In yet another chapter in the unholy compact between the Boston FBI and Bulger and Flemmi, a federal grand jury is now probing whether the FBI leaked to the two mobsters, their prized informants, that McIntyre's tell-all talk posed a huge risk to their empire.

"You don't know where you're going to end up or what kind of demise you're going to come to," McIntyre fretted, words that eerily foreshadow his fate.

It wasn't as if the police that night had McIntyre over a barrel, the usual circumstance for a wise guy who sees talk as the only way out. Instead, McIntyre was just back from weeks at sea on the gunrunning mission when police picked him up outside his estranged wife's home in Quincy.

"They thought I was a burglar, because I rang the doorbell last night and no one answered, so I climbed up the balcony," McIntyre explained. "I mean, I hadn't seen her. I'd been out for six weeks."

McIntyre was no choirboy. He had had his beefs with the law, once after assaulting some youths who had stolen car wheels and equipment from him. Then he was arrested for driving while drunk, and when he failed to show up in court a warrant for his arrest automatically appeared on his file. It amounted to "B.S. beefs," as the police said later during the debriefing, using an acronym for minor complaints. But the outstanding warrant meant McIntyre was held by Quincy police when they picked him up outside his estranged wife's place.

DEA agents are summoned

Once at the station, McIntyre voluntarily began talking about marijuana, mother ships, gunrunning, and, most shocking, the Valhalla. His concerns were twofold: He wanted help with his run-in with the local cops and an escape route out of the underworld. The talk, however, went over the heads of the patrol officers, and a call went out for Detective Richard Bergeron.

The Quincy detective then summoned a federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Steve Boeri. The Quincy police and DEA had teamed up to investigate Bulger's and Flemmi's drug trafficking, a probe called Operation Beans. The federal agent got quickly to the point:

Boeri: So you want to cooperate with the government?

McIntyre: Yeah. If you can get me out of this jam. See if I can straighten out my life.

Boeri: Okay. Now what are you going to talk about . . . guns or dope?

McIntyre: Drugs.

Indeed he did. The Quincy man described how he worked the docks and the boats for seven marijuana-smuggling trips. "I was the engineer on all those boats," he said, each of which carried, on average, "between two and three thousand bales."

His life, it seemed, had a history of veering suddenly. He had dropped out of college to join the Army and then, after having begun a solid track record in intelligence, was busted for marijuana possession. In the early 1980s, he was working in underwater construction and asbestos removal, and had a small fishing boat when he became involved with Joe Murray of Charlestown, one of the region's biggest drug traffickers. McIntyre belonged to Murray's "cell" in an extremely "structured organization" that was "just like the military." The news McIntyre offered the DEA was that the Murray group had "merged" with "the South Boston organization," information that corroborated the investigators' own surveillance about Bulger's expansion in the early '80s into trafficking by extorting fees from importers.

"They have a liquor store over in South Boston," McIntyre said, referring to the South Boston Liquor Mart that Bulger had taken over in early 1984 to use as a base. "Right at the rotary there. That's their front organization."

McIntyre conceded he had never been inside the liquor mart. "See, you never go outside your chain of communication." Making matters worse, it was hard to know who you knew; the wise guys often used nicknames and no last names. ("For three years I didn't know Joe Murray's last name.") He did, however, know Bulger's key underlings - Patrick Nee and Kevin Weeks. "They wanted to bring some of their representative people over," he said about the Bulger gang. "So they could keep an eye on everything."

Dealing with "bad characters"

Nee, born in Ireland but a longtime Southie figure, was a proud sympathizer of the Irish Republican Army. Weeks, known as Bulger's surrogate son, was described as "a little shorter than me. Husky, stocky, dark hair. He wears a gold chain with boxing gloves. I knew he was a Golden Gloves fighter."

Talking about their bosses, McIntyre said: "I'm telling you, these characters are bad. I don't know what your idea of a bad guy is, but they would tie you right up with piano wire to a pile and leave you there. That's their idea of a joke."

Boeri: This sounds real good. Let me ask you a question. How would you feel about, would you be willing to feed us information about working with these guys?

McIntyre: I'd do it if it would get me out of this.

The freshest thing on McIntyre's mind that night was the IRA gun-smuggling operation. "You don't know what it's like offloading this stuff out at sea," he said, recapping the drama of the gun exchange with the IRA boat, the Marita Ann. "We tore one of the cleats off, we bashed in the side when the Irish boat hit us."

The Valhalla, a 77-foot fishing trawler, had left Gloucester on Sept. 14 for a few weeks of swordfishing. At least that was the cover story. In fact, the trawler was carrying 7 tons of weapons valued at $1 million. Nee, representing Bulger, and Murray were the hands-on organizers, rounding up an arsenal - part stolen, part purchased - that included 70,000 rounds of ammunition, 91 rifles, 8 submachine guns, 13 shotguns, and 51 handguns. Using a fake name, Nee ordered rocket warheads from an Ohio firm and had them delivered to the Columbia Yacht Club in Southie, where he was a member. One of the bulletproof vests in the cache had belonged to Stephen Flemmi's brother, Mike, a Boston police officer. (Mike Flemmi would say later it was stolen.)

Loading the boat was tense and hurried. "Joe Murray brought weapons right up in his Blazer," McIntyre recounted. "We had to bring six vans in and this guy Kevin [Weeks] was there. He was up on the hill watching with the VHF [two-way radio]." Originally, added McIntyre, "We were going to bring coke along with the weapons. . . . Joe couldn't get enough out of Columbia." But the mission was first and foremost about getting guns to the IRA. "We were committed to do the weapons."

The boat carried six men - McIntyre, a captain named Bob Anderson, "an IRA man that we left over there with the load," and three other men from Bulger's gang, who used the names Charlie, Huey, and Jimmy. McIntyre, it turned out, had no use for Bulger's men. "Every day they got to take two, three showers. These guys, running around flossing their teeth, taking showers.

"You can tell them right away. All of them wear scally caps. They got the Adidas jumpsuits and they ain't got a speck of dirt on them. They don't know the first thing about a boat."

Unknown to any of the smugglers, the authorities had been tipped off and the Irish Navy intercepted the Marita Ann before it could return to Ireland. It took two more weeks for the Valhalla to make it back to Boston, tying up at Pier 7.

"They got an informer over there," McIntyre said, guessing what went wrong. "In each county, they [the IRA] have a general. But there was only 10 people in Ireland that knew the deal was coming down." (In the early '90s, the former head of the IRA in Kerry said he was the leak. Sean O'Callaghan, an assassin turned informer, said he did it for revenge.)

By the time he was finished talking to the DEA, McIntyre had covered drugs, guns, and the inner workings of the Bulger-Murray joint ventures. The investigators felt as if they had won the lottery.

"Seemed like an awful big gift at that particular point in time," Bergeron, the Quincy detective, testified in 1998 during federal court hearings examining Bulger's ties to the FBI. The feeling was almost euphoric, having an asset like McIntyre for Operation Beans. "This guy had a mountain of information," Bergeron testified.

But, Bergeron recalled, McIntyre was also clearly "petrified of these guys," leading Boeri to test his resolve. "Are you going to play ball with us?" the DEA agent asked. "Like tomorrow or the next day? Are we going to be able to talk to you more or are you going to have a change of heart?"

"You get this thing squared away for me," McIntyre replied firmly, "and like I say, I'd like to straighten my life out."

McIntyre kept his word.

The DEA, however, shared the "gift" of McIntyre with other law enforcement agencies, including a compromised FBI. The next day, McIntyre repeated what he had said to agent Roderick Kennedy of the FBI's Boston office. In Operation Beans, Kennedy was serving as a liaison between the bureau and the DEA/Quincy police. In an FBI report filed about his Oct. 16, 1984, interview, Kennedy wrote that McIntyre went over the drug and gun smuggling, talked at length about Joe Murray, and also talked about "Patrick Nee of South Boston, Kevin, and an individual named Whitey who operates a liquor store."

Drug shipment seized

To show he was the real thing, McIntyre mentioned a drug shipment coming into Boston aboard the freighter Ramsland. The boat was seized as it entered Boston Harbor on Nov. 16, 1984, and 36 tons of marijuana were found buried in the hold.

But within weeks of what had seemed a huge break for the DEA and Quincy investigators, McIntyre left his parents' home saying he was going to meet with Nee. He was never seen again. His truck was found in early December in the lot of a Dorchester lounge. His wallet and an uncashed veteran's disability check were on the dashboard. In an instant, John L. McIntyre, the man hoping to turn his life around, had vanished.

Until mid-January of this year. Police were led to the sensational recovery of McIntyre's remains and those of two others by Kevin Weeks, who, facing racketeering charges after his indictment in late 1999, has turned against his mentor, Bulger. Though still not identified, the other remains are believed to be those of safecracker Arthur "Bucky" Barrett, missing since 1983, and Deborah Hussey, a girlfriend of Flemmi's, who also disappeared during fall 1984.

Last week, Boeri did not return telephone calls. Bergeron and Kennedy declined to comment. In 1985, however, not long after McIntyre's disappearance, Operation Beans crashed. It turned out that the FBI - and, in particular, FBI agent John Connolly - had secretly protected the two crime bosses. "Connolly contributed to assuring that DEA's efforts would not succeed by alerting Bulger and Flemmi to the investigation generally and to the electronic surveillance particularly," US District Court Judge Mark Wolf wrote in a 661-page ruling in the federal rackeeteering case pending against Flemmi and the fugitive Bulger.

Eventually Murray, Nee, and others were convicted for drug smuggling and gunrunning, but Bulger and Flemmi were never charged in those cases. The exact responsibility for McIntyre's murder, meanwhile, remains unfinished business. In his ruling, Wolf complained that key documents - the transcript of McIntyre's initial debriefing that is the basis for this story, and then Kennedy's FBI reports about McIntyre - were not produced by the government in time to thoroughly question Kennedy and others.

"There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that Kennedy may have told Connolly about McIntyre's cooperation . . . and reason to be concerned that Connolly may have told Bulger and Flemmi," concluded Wolf in September 1999. Now, a federal grand jury is investigating a possible link between the FBI and the murder.

Kennedy appeared before the panel last summer, sources told the Globe last autumn. The retired FBI agent, sources said, insists he never told Connolly about McIntyre but that Connolly knew anyway because Connolly was around when agents were discussing McIntyre's cooperation. In interviews, Connolly, who was indicted in December on racketeering charges, has denied telling Bulger and Flemmi about McIntyre.

McIntyre's family, meanwhile, awaits possession of John's remains. The family is planning a cremation and memorial service at Star of the Sea Church in the Squantum section of Quincy.

"I'd like to be able to sleep at night," was the way McIntyre put it to explain why he wanted to cooperate - words that today are like a voice from the grave but were in fact a call for help made on an otherwise forgettable night 16 years ago.

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