Ex-officer finds relief in Bulger case indictment

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / November 12, 2000
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Frank Dewan had given up. After years of chasing South Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger and battling forces within his own department, Dewan abruptly resigned in 1995, turning in his Boston police badge after nearly 25 years on the job.

The former sergeant detective went shopping for a home on Florida's Gulf Coast. Somebody else would have to track down the elusive Bulger and bring him and his longtime cohort Stephen Flemmi to justice.

But as Dewan receded into retirement, he was dragged back into the Bulger saga in 1997 by an anonymous letter to a federal judge that branded him corrupt and accused him of fabricating informants in an obsessive quest to "get" Bulger and Flemmi.

He had withdrawn from the fight, he said, and the forces against him still would not leave him alone.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. on charges that he wrote the phony letter in an effort to dupe the judge who was presiding over the racketeering case against Connolly's longtime informants, Bulger and Flemmi.

For Dewan and his supporters, the obstruction of justice charges against Connolly confirmed what they long suspected: that for years as Dewan relentlessly pursued Bulger, Connolly was working to sabotage his efforts by portraying him as an unstable, rogue cop.

The news came as sweet vindication for Dewan, 60, who now makes a living as a substitute teacher. "I'm down here in Forida enjoying life and he's up there worrying about going to jail for the rest of his life," Dewan said in a telephone interview. "I knew there were lies and rumors being spread and now the public knows."

Dewan argues that any chance he had of catching Bulger was thwarted by Connolly's behind-the-scenes whisper campaign to turn even his own department against him. His career was ruined, he said.

And it had been a promising one.

Leonard Henson, the former prosecutor who ran the Suffolk County organized crime unit that Dewan served on, compared Dewan to Frank Serpico. Made famous by Al Pacino in a 1973 movie, Serpico was the New York City police officer who was vilified by his department after exposing police corruption there during the 1960s.

"People were saying, `If you can't prove it, don't say it,' and he on the other hand was a good policeman who wanted to do things the right way," said Henson, adding that Dewan always played by the rules and would aggressively pursue any hint of wrongdoing.

"Frank is a good, decent guy and I think he got a raw deal," Henson said. "It's a shame his career had to end the way it did."

Dewan grew up in Roxbury and joined the Boston Police Department in 1971, graduating from the academy with Commissioner Paul F. Evans. He developed a reputation as a tenacious investigator adept at building long-term, complicated cases.

But he also was known around the department as someone who would not bend the rules - or allow anyone else to bend them.

During a three-year investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the Suffolk district attorney's organized crime unit, an undercover DEA agent bought cocaine from a South Boston dealer. The dealer confided that Bulger "controlled everything" in South Boston and that if you sold drugs "you had to pay Bulger a percentage, or you didn't deal drugs, or you ended up dead."

In 1990, the case ended with indictments against 51 people on cocaine charges. Bulger remained uncharged, but not unscathed.

"The myth in South Boston was that Whitey was keeping the drugs out," Dewan said. "Our case not only exposed his involvement in drugs, but also in liquor, gaming, and everything else going on over there."

The case also embarrassed the FBI. When investigators raided the South Boston Liquor Mart and neighboring variety store that served as Bulger's headquarters, they found a $205 receipt for liquor sold to FBI Agent Dick Baker and a piece of paper with the notation, "Dick Baker, friend of John Connolly."

The incriminating paperwork revealed that the liquor that the FBI gave away as door prizes at its 1989 Christmas party had been purchased at Bulger's store. Last year, Bulger was charged with forcing a local couple to sell him the store, and Connolly was charged with failing to intervene, despite a plea for help from a relative of the couple.

During a 1998 interview with the Globe, Connolly accused Dewan of planting the slip of paper with his name on it, saying, "He tried to frame me."

But Kenneth Beers, a retired Boston Police detective who worked on the Bulger case and participated in the raids, called Connolly's claim "baloney."

"Frank wasn't there when we found the liquor slip," Beers said. "Frank did it the right way and he was uncorruptible and maybe it bothered people."

Assistant US Attorney George Vien, who handled the federal prosecution, said, "More than anyone else, Frank Dewan was responsible for the success of the investigation and prosecution of the 51 defendants in the South Boston case."

But not everybody was happy with the indictments alleging that Bulger got a percentage of every drug deal in South Boston.

While Dewan was targeting Bulger, he said, he repeatedly found wood screws in his car tires that caused them to go flat slowly. Anonymous, harassing phone calls were made to his home.

The atmosphere within the Police Department was often no better for Dewan. Other police officers complained that he was targeting Bulger because he hated South Boston. Dewan began to suspect that Bulger had friends in the department who were trying to undermine the investigation.

John J. Coleman, the former special agent-in-charge of the DEA's Boston office, said Dewan was "as honest as the day is long." But, he said, Dewan "wasn't comfortable at the time working in his own department because working in Southie and working on organized crime just wasn't a popular thing for any cop to be doing in Boston. It was a career-ender for a lot of cops unless you were on the right side of the Bulger gang."

When Connolly retired in December 1990, the FBI dropped Bulger and Flemmi as informants and began targeting them.

Dewan continued working organized crime cases until 1994, when he demanded a transfer to a new unit after raising allegations of corruption against a superior.

Evans acknowledged that Dewan had a reputation as an "outstanding" investigator.

"The problem I had," Evans said, "and it was a persistent problem with Frank, was that he made allegations [against colleagues], but he never substantiated those allegations." The commissioner said all of Dewan's allegations of internal corruption were "vigorously pursued," but none were ever proven.

But William Johnston, a retired Boston police deputy superintendent, said the police department failed Dewan. "Every time he pointed his finger at corruption, instead of going after the people he pointed at, they went after him."

In January 1995, Dewan celebrated the racketeering indictment of Bulger and Flemmi. But by that summer, Dewan stood accused of failing to turn over information to a homicide detective in a high-profile murder case.

As a homeless man was about to stand trial for the 1992 murder of a drug dealer, the FBI turned over a report that implicated two other men in the slaying - men linked to Bulger's organization.

The FBI report was based on informant material from Dewan, who claimed he gave the same information to Sergeant Detective Paul Barnicle. But Barnicle accused Dewan of lying.

"I think that at some point in Frank's career something went wrong in that Frank felt he couldn't trust anybody," Barnicle said."He became Diogenes, the lone Boston police officer walking through the dark with a lantern of truth," he added, referring to the Greek philosopher who searched for an honest man.

Dewan wrote an angry resignation letter, criticizing Evans and his command staff and claiming he was being targeted for going after Bulger and exposing corruption in the police ranks.

"I was personally deeply offended by his attack on my integrity," Evans said.

Dewan was out of the picture until 1997, when the anonymous letter landed on the desk of US District Judge Mark L. Wolf.

The letter, written on Boston Police stationery and purporting to be written by three officers, alleged that Dewan was corrupt and "has privately alluded to planting both information and evidence in order to `get' Bulger and Flemmi."

Attorney Tracy Miner, who represents Connolly, said, "He's pled not guilty to the charge involving this letter and that's all we're going to say about the letter."

But now that Connolly is charged with obstruction of justice for writing the letter, Dewan says, "I feel vindicated."

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