He's been lauded as an invaluable FBI informant and denounced as a vicious gangster, but yesterday, for the first time, fugitive South Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger was charged with being a killer - an indiscriminate hit man who murdered 16 men and two women.
A sweeping federal racketeering indictment unsealed yesterday also charges Bulger's longtime sidekick and fellow informant Stephen Flemmi with teaming up with Bulger on 10 of the murders - including those of Flemmi's longtime girlfriend and the daughter of his live-in companion. The indictment also includes three other murders linked to the Bulger group, which Bulger and Flemmi allegedly didn't participate in.
"The victims include strangers who happened to be in the wrong place, longtime criminal associates, friends, and others whom they believed might provide information to law enforcement or could otherwise threaten their organization," said US Attorney Donald K. Stern during a news conference yesterday at the federal courthouse in Boston.
When approached by the FBI to become an informant in 1975 against his rivals in the New England Mafia, Bulger had already allegedly killed seven people and wounded five others during a violent power struggle with another gang, according to the indictment.
Charles S. Prouty, who recently took over as special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said the FBI is revising its informant guidelines and has enacted several new programs as a result of the Bulger case.
"One thing I do want to make very clear is, this in itself is repugnant to all FBI employees," Prouty said.
"Ninety-nine percent of the FBI's employees are honest hard-working employees who often put their lives on the line, and every one of us are just very, very disturbed, disappointed, feel betrayed and are upset by this."
The 11 people whom Bulger allegedly killed during the time he was an FBI informant include a Tulsa millionaire who suspected Bulger's crew of skimming money from his company, three men who were cooperating with the FBI against Bulger, and two women who were considered a "threat" to Flemmi. One man was simply giving a ride home to a man on Bulger's hit list.
Bulger is the brother of former state Senate president William M. Bulger, who is now president of the University of Massachusetts.
Stern called this latest wave of indictments "perhaps the most important step in what has been a relentless pursuit of justice."
"Layer upon layer of myth, fear and protection have been stripped away," Stern said, "leaving a chilling and profoundly disturbing core of shakedowns, drug dealing, corruption, and murder."
The new charges are part of a superseding indictment that adds Bulger and Flemmi to an existing racketeering case returned in November 1999 against longtime Bulger associates Kevin P. O'Neil and Kevin Weeks, both of Quincy.
It also charges Bulger and Flemmi with extortion, money laundering, and shaking down drug dealers and bookmakers.
Weeks was dropped from the case in July after pleading guilty to other charges.
Since January, he's led investigators to three burial sites in Dorchester and Quincy, where the remains of five victims have been unearthed and a sixth is still being sought.
O'Neil, who is charged with racketeering and money laundering, is now trying to strike a deal with prosecutors, according to sources, and could provide information against former FBI agent John Connolly, Bulger and Flemmi's longtime handler.
Bulger has been a fugitive since his 1995 indictment on federal racketeering charges, and Flemmi remains jailed without bail while awaiting trial in that case. The trial has been delayed by lengthy hearings that exposed Bulger and Flemmi's relationship with the FBI after Flemmi claimed agents had promised them immunity from prosecution.
Last December, Bulger and Flemmi were charged in a second racketeering indictment along with Connolly, who is accused of tipping them off to investigations and warning Bulger to flee on the eve of his January 1995 indictment.
While the indictment unsealed yesterday doesn't name Connolly as a defendant, it alleges that Connolly and Flemmi "coordinated" a plan for Flemmi to "shield" Connolly by lying about who tipped him off to the 1995 indictment when he testified in federal court in 1998 before US District Judge Mark L. Wolf.
The indictment contends that Flemmi lied when he testified that former FBI supervisor John Morris tipped him and Bulger to the 1995 indictment in a bid to protect Connolly, who was the real tipster.
The indictment, which charges Flemmi with obstruction of justice, alleges that Weeks was the go-between, carrying messages between Connolly and Flemmi, who was in jail at the time.
Morris admitted taking $7,000 in bribes from Bulger and Flemmi while testifying under a grant of immunity, but he denied tipping the pair to the indictment.
Tracy Miner, an attorney representing Connolly, said, "John Connolly absolutely did not tip anyone to the indictment. It's not surprising to me that the government would try to use one of its rats to bolster the credibility of another of its rats. But they can't escape the fact that it was John Morris who took money and not John Connolly."
When asked how Connolly could have used Bulger and Flemmi as informants while they were alleged serial killers, Miner said, "John Connolly was in no better position to know that than anyone else in the FBI. If he should have known, then other people should have known."
The new charges come after two former Bulger associates, Weeks and John Martorano, a confessed hit man, struck deals with federal prosecutors and implicated Bulger and Flemmi in numerous murders that occurred between 1973 and 1985.
Stern praised the State Police, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service, agencies that spearheaded the probe and persuaded Weeks and Martorano to cooperate.
Yesterday, investigators continued to dig along the banks of the Neponset River in Quincy for a sixth victim, Flemmi's longtime girlfriend, Debra Davis, who was 26 when she vanished on Sept. 17, 1981, after planning to leave Flemmi for another man.
The indictment charges Bulger and Flemmi with killing Davis because they believed she was "a threat" to Flemmi.
They're also accused of killing Thomas King, a Bulger rival, whose disappearance in November 1975 remained a mystery until his remains were unearthed at the Quincy site last week.
Bulger is also accused of killing Paul "Paulie" McGonagle of South Boston, whose remains were discovered earlier this month in a grave at the edge of Tenean Beach in Dorchester.
The indictment alleges that Bulger and Flemmi kidnapped and killed three people whose remains were unearthed in January from a makeshift grave across from Florian Hall in Dorchester.
Those victims included John McIntyre, 32, of Quincy, who vanished on Nov. 30, 1984, after implicating the Bulger gang in drug smuggling and an ill-fated effort to ship guns to the Irish Republican Army; Arthur "Bucky" Barrett, of Quincy, who was involved in the 1980 Memorial Day weekend burglary of Depositors Trust in Medford; and Deborah Hussey, 26, of Milton, the daughter of Flemmi's longtime girlfriend.
The indictment reveals that the three Florian Hall victims had been buried in the basement of a South Boston home, then exhumed by Bulger, Flemmi, and Weeks in October 1985 because the house was about to be sold.
According to sources, the house was the East Third Street home of longtime Bulger associate Patrick Nee. It was owned by Nee's relatives until December 1985.
Bulger and Flemmi are also charged with killing Revere nightclub owner Richard Castucci on Dec. 30, 1976, after learning that he had told the FBI about the whereabouts of two of Bulger's pals who were fugitives.
Bulger and Flemmi are also charged with orchestrating the May 27, 1981, murder of Roger Wheeler, chairman of Telex Corp. and owner of World Jai Alai, who was gunned down outside a Tulsa country club because he suspected Bulger's gang was skimming money from his business.
When Brian Halloran told the FBI that Bulger and Flemmi were involved in Wheeler's slaying, Bulger gunned down Halloran outside a Boston restaurant in May 1982, also killing bystander Michael Donahue, according to the indictment.
Two months later, Bulger and Flemmi allegedly hired Martorano to kill John Callahan, a former Jai Alai executive, in Florida because they feared he'd cooperate with investigators, the indictment says.
Other alleged victims of Bulger and Flemmi include James Sousa, who was involved in a botched robbery attempt and killed in 1974, and Edward Connors of Dorchester, who reportedly had information on the murder of James O'Toole, who was killed by Bulger in 1973. Bulger is also charged with killing Francis "Buddy" Leonard, a close friend of King, in 1975.
Thomas Butters, an attorney representing O'Neil, said he "is not alleged to be involved in any murders, which is what we've been saying all along."
John Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.