Chat transcript

Kevin Cullen on the Connolly trial

September 16, 2008
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Single Page|
  • |
Text size +

Globe columnist Kevin Cullen chatted with readers live from the trial of disgraced former Boston FBI agent John Connolly in Miami.

howie: Hey Kevin, any chance of a Whitey sighting at the trial?

Kevin_Cullen: If I see Whitey down here, he'll probably be walking on Ocean Ave on South Beach, wearing a Speedo and holding the leash to a poodle. He and his girlfriend had a poodle they used to walk when they lived in Quincy.

pops888: Is it weird seeing all these guys again, especially now that they're old and incarcerated? How the mighty have fallen, eh?

Kevin_Cullen: I hadn't seen Johnny Connolly for more than 10 years, and I saw him yesterday in an orange jump suit, with leg and wrist chains, escorted into an area where he changed into his suit. As I told Johnny before the trial started, the last time we saw each other we both had black hair.

trips_dubu10: Why does the government cut deals with guys like Martorano? Wouldn't you rather have him behind bars than connolly?

johneel: Kevin, first of all, I've always appreciated your reporting and insight. Here's an ethnocentric question about this whole thing that i find repulsive. How despicable is it that for years we always saw the irish mob portrayed as a wonderful bunch of jovial leprechauns (sp?) who just happened to commit crimes, as opposed to the horrible, dark skinned Italian mob who were just worthy of destruction. The fact that a group of DAs, US Attorneys, and FBI nitwits -- with Os before their names rather than after them -- got away with years consorting with criminals is, I think, a reflection on this warped town and the culture of many groups, including the happy-go-lucky Boston Globe and its culture (not many Italians on the masthead there, is there?) I'm not promoting the repulsive mafiosos, just shocked really that Boston was so joyfully clueless about every other creepy ethnic group committing coordinated crime against the populace. Your thoughts?

Kevin_Cullen: I think it's a little more complicated than that. The FBI sets national policies, without regard to regional peculiarities. In the 1970s and 1980s, the FBI's national policy was to take out La Cosa Nostra, AKA the Sicilian Mafia. The problem was, in Boston, at least, the Irish mob was far more vicious and violent than the Mafia. I covered the Angiulo trial in the mid-1980s and what was so obvious is that the Italians were pretty useless when it came to doling out murder and mayhem so they had to use the Irish as subcontractors. And adding to the irony is that the best killers in the Irish mob were Italians: Johnny Martarano and Stevie Flemmi, the latter of whom did not want to join the Mafia because he couldn't see the wisdom of having to whack up money he made with some old capo regime who sat on his fanny drinking coffee on Hanover Street. So it's not as simple as they locked up the Italians and let the Irish run free, because many members of the so-called Irish mob, or Winter Hill, were actually Italians who didn't want to, or weren't invited to, join the Mafia.

Kevin_Cullen: I went live a little earlier than expected, so for anybody showing up later, this is Kevin Cullen, reporting live from Courtroom 4-1 at the Miami-Dade Circuit Court, where former FBI agent John Connolly is on trial for helping Whitey Bulger and his crew murder an accountant named John Callahan, whose bullet-riddled and decomposing body was found stuffed in the trunk of his Cadillac Fleetwood at Miami International Airport in 1982.

Ted21: Hi Mr. Cullen, when is Flemmi scheduled to testify, and are there tv cameras in the courtroom?

Kevin_Cullen: Mike Von Zamft, the assistant state attorney for Miami Dade County, who is prosecuting the case with Fred Wyshak, the federal prosecutor from Boston who is a special prosecutor in this case, just told me that we could see Johnny Martarano on the stand later today, but no word on when Flemmi is up.

Kevin_Cullen: Sorry, I forgot to add that there is a TV camera in the courtroom. It's right in front of me, but frankly this is about the third or fourth most interesting murder trial going on in Florida right now, at least in the eyes of the Miami media. They have a lot of homegrown murder and mayhem here.

ipp90: Kevin, I like your Whitey answer, but aren't you afraid he might come back to get ya? Be honest, you wouldn't goof like this if he was still running Southie.

Kevin_Cullen: I think my biggest concern about Whitey at this point is that he might come back and crack me over the head with a bottle of Geritol. He's 80 years old, for cripes sake. And, no, I don't go around insulting gangsters who are still in the life. I'm dumb, but I'm not stupid.

Ted21: Do the jury seemed to have known who Whitey Bulger was?

Kevin_Cullen: The jurors don't have a clue who Whitey Bulger is. That is a challenge for the prosecutors, and yesterday Fred Wyshak spoke for more than an hour and a half, trying to walk these 15 people through the Byzantine world of the Boston underworld. Miami folks don't get too surprised by bizarre, violent crime, because, as I said, the metro section of today's Miami Herald was chockful of wacky murder stories. But Fred's opening statement, to me, sounded like a Russian novel except with a lot Irish and Italian names. How much the jury took all this in is anyone's guess. But I'm thinking Fred and Mike are going to have to keep saying these names and characters over and over again throughout the trial for it to sink in for a bunch of Floridians who, unlike many of us in Boston, have not been living with this story for two decades.

orangina: What's the mood in the courtroom? Any families of the victims there?

Kevin_Cullen: Tommy Hussey, whose 26-year-old daughter Debbie was murdered by Whitey and Stevie in 1985, is sitting right next to me right now. I wrote a column in today's Globe about Tommy. He's the only relative I've seen so far. Johnny Connolly's brother, Jimmy, who was a DEA agent, is here, sitting in back of John, as is Franny Joyce, a longtime friend of Connolly's and a protege of Billy Bulger. But aside from six or seven journalists, and court officers, there's hardly anybody in the courtroom. If this was Boston, it would be SRO.

horation: Aren't you reporters just helping to glorify murderous thugs by covering this trial?

Kevin_Cullen: No more than political reporters are helping John McCain and Barack Obama get elected.

Kevin_Cullen: It's called journalism.

Kevin_Cullen: I don't think I glorify any of these guys, and I don't think my colleagues Shelley Murphy and Dick Lehr, a co-author of the definitive Bulger book "Black Mass," and who are covering the trial with me, glorify murderous thugs either.

bourque_77: Why nobody at the OJ trial?

Kevin_Cullen: I can get a direct flight to Vegas from here.

Kevin_Cullen: Call my editor and tell him to get on it.

Ted21: Is Wyshak still as fiery as he was described in Black Mass?

Kevin_Cullen: Fred is fiery in private. In public, and especially before juries, Fred acts like he just got up from a nap. He's a pretty cool character. Just don't piss him off. Or lie to him.

SydneyStreet: Isn't Connolly just a fall guy for an entire FBI regime that practiced questionable strategies?

Kevin_Cullen: In my opinion, yes, he is. I don't think Connolly is innocent, but neither do I think he acted alone in this. There were supervisors, one of whom, John Morris, was just as corrupt, but Morris cut a deal when Connolly would not. I think that if the Justice Department was serious about rooting out this, there would have been more charges than just the ones against John Connolly.

hey_kevin: Is there any doubt that Connelly gets convicted here? Do you think the prosecution has an open-and-shut case?

Kevin_Cullen: I don't think it's an open and shut case at all. In fact, I think it's a tough case to sell to a jury that has no context or history on all this. The three key witnesses against Connolly - Johnny Martarano, Stevie Flemmi and Kevin Weeks - have 45 murders between them. The other key witness, John Morris, was corrupt himself. Evidentiary wise, the statements claiming that Connolly fed these guys info to kill people are second hand - Martarano, Flemmi and Weeks saying that this is what Whitey told them. And of course Whitey ain't around to corroborate them. But John Timoney, the Miami police chief, who is an old pal, told me that Miami juries are pretty sophisticated when it comes to complex cases of law enforcement corruption. It will be interesting to see the way this unfolds.

hitman: Is John Morris in protective custody while he's down there? Is there any worry that getting all these gangsters in the same town could lead to something bad?

Kevin_Cullen: I don't know where Morris is, but I haven't noticed a lot of security. I think the feeling is that there is nobody around who would kill anybody for Whitey, who took care of nobody but himself. He left his minions to fend for themselves while he stashed millions away for what he had to expect would be many years on the lam. As for all these other guys, they're all rats now, so who's going to kill anybody and for what? Those days are over.

Chris_2: Where is Connolly serving out his current jail time? Did the wife leave him?

Kevin_Cullen: John is in solitary confinement at a place called the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center. Don't know much about the digs, but it ain't the Hilton. Manny and Bruce, John's lawyers, told me they expected John's wife to attend the trial in the coming days.

Chris_2: Does the federal gov't think Connolly had anything to do with the murder of John Callahan also?

Kevin_Cullen: Yes, the specific charge is that Connolly told Bulger that Callahan was weak and that the FBI was going to question him about the murder of Roger Wheeler, the Oklahoma businessman who bought World Jai Alai, and who Johnny Martarano had shot in the face as Wheeler got into his car after playing a round of golf in Tulsa. Callahan was not a real wiseguy, but a hanger on and a good friend of Martarano, who was recruited by Bulger and Flemmi to kill him specifically because they were so close.

WHITEY: Kevin, who are you most interested in hearing from during testimony?

Kevin_Cullen: Johnny Martorano. He admitted to murdering 20 people, and cops I know say he killed a lot more, and he got 12 years in prison for this. If you saw him on 60 Minutes last year, Johnny Martorano acted like he was some noble knight of the roundtable, and insisted he was not a rat, when he is actually a remorseless murderer and a rat. Fascinating guy.

hey_kevin: Speaking of murderous thugs, has Matorano taken the stand yet today?

Kevin_Cullen: Later today, I'm told

blue: Are Kevin Weeks and John Morris on the witness list also?

Kevin_Cullen: Yes

Ted21: Is Howie Carr there?

Kevin_Cullen: No.

peters_borough: Do you miss the mob in Boston? It must be a little unexciting these days.

Kevin_Cullen: I miss the mob like I miss covering wars. It was exciting at the time, but people got killed, and the farther I get away from such venality, I don't miss it. Gangsters are not nearly as interesting as our culture portrays them. Most of them are venal morons.

peters_borough: Did you ever get death threats?

Kevin_Cullen: Yes.

Kevin_Cullen: Mostly from my wife.

Kevin_Cullen: But I got a few here and there, but I'm still here.

Maverick: Tell John, Mike McNally says hello and good luck

Kevin_Cullen: Okay.

Chris_2: Is the mob basically "dead" in Boston?

Kevin_Cullen: They don't have much left, mostly sports book.

Kevin_Cullen: The biggest bookie in the state is the state. The Lottery killed the mob, which made its bread and butter off the number. But there's still a few wiseguys out there. They're just a lot less organized.

Maverick: Is the Liz and the Boys there ?

Kevin_Cullen: Not yet, but I was told by John's lawyers that Liz was coming down. I don't know about the boys, as the oldest just got out of school and the twins are still in school.

Ertab: The real money and power in the Boston mobs is in the drug trade - I thought that was controlled by lawyers and ex-military: What was controlled by the Bulger gang?

Kevin_Cullen: Bulger's crew controlled all the rackets in SOuth Boston and a little beyond. Gambling, extortion, loansharking and no drugs moved in the town that Whitey didn't get a cut.

blue: Do you get the sense that there has been any reform within the FBI in general or the FBI Boston office? Any improvement in cooperation between the different federal and state agencies that seemed to blunder around, between and into each other back when these murderers were in their prime?

Kevin_Cullen: There has been some reform, but frankly unless and until they bring Whitey in, there will always be questions about how seriously they wanted to find him. There is still a lot of resentment from other agencies, but the reality is that the agents that protected Whitey are dead or retired. There's a whole new generation of FBI agents, young guys like Dave Johnson who work closely with Boston cops like Bobby Fratalia and state cops and they're on task forces together and they do good work together. For guys like Dave and Bobby, they're too busy locking up bad guys today to spend much time worrying about the past. Still, I think the Justice Department really needs to step up and compensate the victims of the Bulger regime.

Maverick: I believe you are right this was business as usual with the Justice Department.

Kevin_Cullen: It's a dirty business.

Matt: Kevin, is the courtroom crowded? What cops are attending from up here?

Kevin_Cullen: No it's not crowded at all.

Kevin_Cullen: The only law enforcement agents I've seen so far are Dan Doherty of the DEA and Steve Johnson of the Massachusetts State Police, two good guys who worked for years to lock Whitey up. They're here assisting Fred Wyshak.

Whitey_sucks: Miami juries are sophisticated? In a state where they screwed up 2 elections?! Kevin I am worried that Connolly will walk.

Kevin_Cullen: He might.

Maverick: do you believe regardless of this case outcome he will be extradited to Arizona for the wheeler murder

Kevin_Cullen: Wheeler was murdered in Oklahoma, but Fred just told me Connolly doesn't have state liability in that murder.

Matt: Kevin: If you talk to the defense lawyer's tell them to take Martorano step by step through each of his murders. In the first trial he was allowed to run through them without having to elaborate on them. Tell them to determine who else was present at the time he committed the murders. Then when he testifies the cops would not have known about all his murders if he did not tell them, the defense counsel can elicit through cross-examination that there were witnesses out there who could have come forth.

Kevin_Cullen: Manny and Bruce are good lawyers, and I don't think they are very interested in my theories of defense or otherwise.

SydneyStreet: In this whole case, Connolly seems to be the only one who hasn't cut a deal or spilled the beans (FBI and gangsters included). Is his "omerta" noble or foolish?

Kevin_Cullen: Good question. Johnny insists he did nothing wrong, so there's no deal to cut. But it is more than ironic that he and Stevie Flemmi are the only ones in the can and everybody else, most notably Whitey, are out walking around.

sam62: Hi Kevin, Love your columns by the way. Do you think there is a chance for conviction, and perhaps a death sentence in this case? Given the jury is not from this area, and have no knowledge of the history behind this case, would that help in the fairness of this case? I feel bad for his sister, she is a retired first grade teacher and lived an honest and upright life. I think the culture of the past allowed types like Connelly and the FBI and some from the Boston Police Department (Jimmy Cox, Luke McDonough, etc) to get away, or try to get away with what they did.

Kevin_Cullen: There is certainly a chance for conviction, but this is not a death penalty case.

ricky: How long do you think this trial will go? Are you gavel-to-gavel coverage, or opening and closing?

Kevin_Cullen: The lawyers say it could be six weeks, but I won't be here that long.

sdfgjhdyjn: What's the make up of the jury.

Kevin_Cullen: Eight women, seven men. Only 12 will deliberate. I see four African-Americans, a few people who appear to be Latino and the others appear to be white. They are mostly working and middle class, according to those who sat through the voir dire.
Editor's note: Cullen reports the jury actually has three African-Americans, not four.

Mrs__Peel: Are gangsters venal morons, as you put it, or psychopaths? You've seen a bunch of them up close, so I was wondering what your armchair diagnosis was. Were they just venal, or is something really mentally wrong with them?

Kevin_Cullen: I'm not a psychiatrist, but I play one on TV. Seriously, I can't say. Some of the gangsters I've met struck me as sociopaths, in that they do not appear to have consciences. But I'm not especially qualified to diagnose.

Guilty: Kevin what is feeling among the prosecution team about their chances of success?

Kevin_Cullen: Fred Wyshak and Mike Von Zampft are good prosecutors, but they didn't get where they are by predicting outcomes of trials before they try them. This ain't ESPN.

westie: can u Tell John Timoney my father is still waiting for the apology from when John hit him over the head with the hurl back in the 1950s...they were rivals with their respective counties but teammates on the NYPD hurling team. John was a very good hurler in addition to being a first class Police chief.

Kevin_Cullen: Get in line. John is a good guy, and a good cop. I wouldn't want Timoney chasing me with a hurl in his hand.

om: Just wondering - did anything every happen in Malden with the Bulger regime?

Kevin_Cullen: Not that I know of. Malden was home to more than a few soldiers in the Angiulo crime family, or more specifically the Patriarca family. Medford, too. And Revere, and...

SchwillyPete: Who controls the rackets and the drug trade in Southie now?

Kevin_Cullen: As for the latter, I wouldn't know.

Kevin_Cullen: As for the rackets, it's called the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. They've got the number locked up.

Ertab: Where was U.S Attorney William Weld when this was going on?

Kevin_Cullen: I think Bill was writing a book.

Kevin_Cullen: Actually, Weld had an inkling of what was going on, but back then the US Organized Crime Strike Force sort of operated in its own orbit, outside the supervision of the US Attorney. It's different now.

blue: Disregarding the seriousness for a second - Carl Hiassen, Dennis Lehane, and Robert Parker should be there collaborating - what a novel this would make

Kevin_Cullen: Absolutely. Lehane could do the dialogue. Hiassen would translate it into the madness that is Miami and Parker would know where the hell I could get a good glass of wine in this Mojito town.

jc: Are there any reporters on the witness list?

Kevin_Cullen: Not that I know of.

blue: wow - even the Irish/Gangster beat columnists are drinking wine now - didn't you mean a cold Guinness?

Kevin_Cullen: I had a pint of Guinness at an alleged Irish pub on South Beach the other day and it tasted vaguely like someone had poured porter into an ash tray. I'll be in Dublin in a couple of weeks, and trust me, I won't walk into Mulligans on Poolbeg Street and ask for a Mojito.

Kevin_Cullen: Sorry folks, but I'm past my time, and I've got to go. It was real.

Kevin_Cullen: And as Jackie Gleason used to say, Miami Beach audiences are the greatest audiences in the world.

  • Email
  • Email
  • Print
  • Print
  • Single page
  • Single page
  • Reprints
  • Reprints
  • Share
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Comment
  • Share on DiggShare on Digg
  • Tag with Save this article
  • powered by
Your Name Your e-mail address (for return address purposes) E-mail address of recipients (separate multiple addresses with commas) Name and both e-mail fields are required.
Message (optional)
Disclaimer: does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.