John Bulger gets six months
Is sentenced to prison for lying about `Whitey'
While James "Whitey" Bulger celebrated his 74th birthday yesterday on the run, his youngest brother John "Jackie" Bulger was in federal court being sentenced to six months in prison, followed by six months of house arrest, for thwarting efforts to catch the fugitive gangster. Whitey may have been just about the only Bulger not in US District Court in Boston. William M. Bulger, who stepped down as president of the University of Massachusetts on Monday amid controversy over his own loyalty to his gangster brother, was there, along with his wife, children, sisters, and some 50 friends and relatives.
It was a quiet show of support by the Bulgers, who all sat stoicly throughout the two-hour hearing and left without talking to reporters.
John Bulger, 65, must surrender to authorities on Oct. 3 to begin serving his sentence.
While several spectators gasped when US District Judge George A. O'Toole Jr. rejected a defense plea for probation and ordered John Bulger, a retired court clerk magistrate, to serve six months in prison, federal prosecutors argued that the sentence was far too light for a man who had lied to two grand juries to protect his fugitive brother and had also tried to help him obtain bogus identification.
"There's a bright line between family loyalty and the corruption of the criminal justice system," US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan told reporters outside the courthouse. "That's why it's very important for our system to appropriately respond. Six months is not an appropriate sentence."
Sullivan, whose office had argued that Bulger's sentencing range should have been 41 to 51 months under federal guidelines, said he's considering whether to appeal the sentence.
"We've heard a lot of talk about family loyalty," Sullivan said. "James Whitey Bulger has not shown any loyalty to his family members left behind. . . . I have never for one minute thought James Whitey Bulger had any loyalty to anyone but himself."
But Boston lawyer George Gormley, who represents John Bulger, said he was paying a "significant price" for protecting his gangster brother by lying to grand juries about safe deposit boxes used by his brother and about contact he'd had with him.
"A good person has become a convicted felon and is going to jail," said Gormley, who argued that John Bulger had already been severely, and unfairly, punished when the State Retirement Board stopped paying his pension after he pleaded guilty in April to federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
Bulger, who retired two years ago as a clerk magistrate at Boston Juvenile Court after working for the court system for 32 years, had been collecting a pension of about $5,000 a month, Gormley said.
Federal investigators began pressuring the Bulger family for information about Whitey Bulger soon after he fled in January 1995 to evade a federal racketeering indictment. He remains on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list with a $1 million reward for his capture. Two years ago, he was indicted on new charges that he killed 19 people.
In April, John Bulger admitted that he lied when he testified before a federal grand jury in 1998 that he hadn't had any contact with his fugitive brother, when in fact the pair had talked on the telphone in August 1996.
But, it wasn't until last month that prosecutors, seeking a higher sentence for John Bulger, informed the judge that he had posed for several photographs wearing a fake mustache to help his fugitive brother obtain bogus identification documents in 1996.
The photographs were taken at John Bulger's home by Kevin Weeks, a longtime associate of Whitey Bulger, who later delivered them to Whitey Bulger in Chicago, according to prosecutors. But the fugitive was unhappy with the quality of the photographs, so he bought a Polaroid camera and had other photos taken.
When pressed during an earlier grand jury appearance in 1996 for information that might help investigators seize Whitey Bulger's assets, John Bulger failed to disclose that his brother had a safe deposit box in Clearwater, Fla., although he had paid the rental fee on the box six months earlier. But Gormley told the judge that John Bulger's efforts to protect his brother occurred before the gangster was charged with killing people. And, he said John Bulger had no knowledge or involvement in any of his brother's alleged crimes.
"They were nothing more than brothers," said Gormley, who added that John Bulger took a career path working for the courts, while his brother went in another direction.
As for motive, Gormley said, "He didn't lie for money or for personal gain or to cover up a crime. . . . He lied out of a desire to not aid the government in locating his brother. . . . It was brotherly concern and not criminal intent."
But Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly said it was "egregious" that John Bulger tried to help Whitey obtain fake ID that allowed him to stay on the run, where he remains a danger to anyone who may corner him.
"The notion that loyalty to family should trump the law should be rejected," Kelly said. "The Unabomber would still be sending bombs through the mail if everyone had this theory that brotherly loyalty should trump all."
Kelly added that prosecutors were not asking John Bulger to join the FBI Fugitive Squad in its hunt for his brother; they wanted him to testify truthfully after he was immunized from prosecution and brought before the two grand juries.
Much of yesterday's hearing was spent haggling over how the sentencing guidelines applied to John Bulger. O'Toole concluded that there was no evidence that Bulger was aware of the details of his brother's criminal activities, and therefore a higher sentence was not warranted. He also ordered Bulger to pay a $3,000 fine.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.