Here’s to honest cops who made a difference
I was sitting in a courtroom the other day, looking at the back of Whitey Bulger’s head, thinking of Pat Greaney and Jack O’Donovan.
Greaney and O’Donovan were state cops, good ones, and both did much to make sure that Whitey will spend his final days in an orange jumpsuit.
But neither could bask in any of this.
Greaney died seven weeks ago. He was only 63 and believe me when I tell you, Pat Greaney was a great cop and a better person.
Jack O’Donovan sits in the VA hospital in Bedford, a prisoner of old age and Alzheimer’s. As a Massachusetts State Police commander, O’Donovan railed against the FBI’s coddling of Whitey Bulger and Stevie Flemmi, seeing them for the vicious sociopaths they were. He empowered State Police detectives to pursue Bulger, withstanding the predictable FBI backlash with a backbone thicker than any lie the Justice Department could throw at him.
Whitey was able to kill with impunity and rake in the millions that fueled his 16 years on the run because he was protected by a deeply corrupted FBI. His reign was assisted by other corrupt cops - some Boston police, at least one State Police officer, and who knows how many other bent law enforcement agents.
But that he even faced criminal charges, and will now die in custody of old age or just plain meanness, is because of a long line of honest cops, a fraternity that included Pat Greaney and Jack O’Donovan.
Bob Fitzpatrick, a good FBI agent who tried to save his agency from the rot that was Whitey Bulger, remembers teaching a class at the FBI Academy in Quantico in the late 1970s. O’D got up and shocked the class by claiming that FBI agent John Connolly and Connolly’s supervisor John Morris were in cahoots with the Irish mob in Boston.
It was shocking all right. And it was classic O’D. If you didn’t like the truth, too bad.
Fitzpatrick gradually came to believe O’Donovan. When he was made assistant special agent in charge in Boston, Fitzpatrick tried to close out Whitey as an informant, but he got the runaround from his own people.
There was a group of state cops - among them Bob Long, Jack O’Malley, Rick Fraelick, Arthur Bourque, Billy Powers - who knew O’D had their back when they went after Bulger and Flemmi in the 1980s.
There were US Drug Enforcement Administration agents like Steve Boeri and Al Reilly, backed by DEA bosses like Paul Brown and John Coleman, who were especially galled that Bulger’s defenders bogusly claimed he kept drugs out of South Boston. The DEA men knew the only drug dealers Whitey killed were the ones who didn’t pay him tribute. They were joined by three Boston cops - Frank Dewan, Ken Beers, Jimmy Carr - who were disgusted by Bulger’s protected status.
O’Donovan gave way to other commanders, like Charlie Henderson, who were just as determined to take down Bulger. They begat a new generation of state cops determined to get Whitey, none of them more determined than Tom Foley.
In the 1990s, Foley assembled a team of troopers - Tom Duffy, Steve Johnson, Mike Scanlan, John Tutungian, just to name a few - who would, with DEA agents like Dan Doherty, defy the FBI to bring charges against Whitey. Foley asked his old pal from Worcester, Pat Greaney, to join the team.
It was Foley who came up with the idea to jam up all the bookies who were paying rent to Whitey and Stevie. Take their money, Foley reasoned, and they’ll talk.
When Buddy Saccardo, another great state cop, found the bookies’ bank in a dive bar in Chelsea, it was a matter of time before Foley would round up the bookies. And when Foley and Greaney got Chico Krantz, the biggest bookie around, to flip, Whitey’s days were numbered.
Foley and Greaney were good at good cop-bad cop. After Foley seized $2 million of Chico’s money and unapologetically explained that Chico and his wife were going to prison, Greaney put his arm around Chico and said, in a way only he could, “Listen, pal. We’re doing you a favor. You wanna watch some TV?’’
Pat would listen to Chico’s stories for hours. Chico hated Whitey. Whitey bragged about killing bookies as he shook you down. Pay me or die. Besides, Chico said, he did nothing for you. He just took your money. In the end, Foley and Greaney appealed to Chico’s sense of honor as much as his desire for revenge.
Greaney was genuinely saddened when Chico died in 1998. Because Greaney had a sense of proportion that so many who protected Whitey lacked. His parents and the nuns at St. Peter’s taught him well. He knew the difference between a bookie and a killer.
There will be time to consider the shameful actions of corrupt cops. For now, remember those named above and others, honest cops who gave much of their careers, who risked their careers, chasing Whitey.
“After they grabbed Whitey, the first person I heard from was Bobby Long,’’ said Frank Dewan, the retired Boston cop. “We’re all pals. We call each other. We text each other. It’s a band of brothers.’’
Long still visits his old boss, Jack O’Donovan, at the VA. It kills him to see O’D so sick, so weak. O’Donovan is one of his heroes.
Long doesn’t know if O’Donovan’s mind, trapped as it is, will grasp it, but the next time he visits, he’s going to lean down, close to his ear and say, “They got him, O’D. They got him.’’
Maybe there will be somewhere in the recesses of that once brilliant mind a place where that will register. Maybe O’D will smile.
For now, we can all smile for Jack O’Donovan and Pat Greaney, two honest cops who made a difference.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.