Boston.com chat with the Globe's Ralph Ranalli
Globe reporter Ralph Ranalli chatted with Boston.com readers about "Whitey" Bulger and the New England Mob on August 29, 2001. Following is a transcript of the chat. Ranalli is the author of Deadly Alliance: The FBI's Secret Partnership with the Mob.
We're ready to get going....
Send in your questions
I wrote Deadly Alliance to spur discussion about the FBI and
the way the agency handles informants. If I can answer any
questions or if you want to make a point, chime in.
do u think whitey is dead?
Hi Vito. No, I think he's still alive, hiding in middle
America somewhere. I can't say the same about his travelling
girlfriend, though. Given what we know about his history of
violence with women, I fear for her safety.
HAVE U EVER MET WHITNEY?
No, but I have talked to other reporters who have, and it is
a pretty scary experience. In the book, I tell the story of
a guy named Paul Corsetti who wrote a story critical of
Bulger. Whitey tracked him down in a bar and threatened to
kill him and his daughter.
Hello. I just read the review of your book and was wondering
in what ways will it be different from Black Mass and the
other existing coverage that I've read? This story is
fascinating, and I've read all the Globe spotlight articles
and Black Mass and would love more information or different
The main difference is scope. Deadly Alliance goes into more
history, and talks about "Whitey Bulgers" - ie killer
informants - in cities like New York, Chicago, and
Cleveland, and it gives more of the historical context of
how the FBI came to recruit guys like Bulger and Steve
Black Mass tells the story of what happened, I wanted to
tell the story of why.
what is the conection between the new york mob and the
boston mob?..is there any conection or are they run as 2
Hi again Vito. Boston, while idependent, was sort of a
branch office of the mob. We never really had anywhere near
the power of the New York mob - in fact the NE mob has
always been headquartered in Providence, not Boston.
Technically, the Gambino family in New York ultimately
called the shots for the NE mob.
Hi Ralph. Looking forward to reading your book. I'm
wondering where and when the last really solid Whitey siting
The last real solid sighting was three or four years ago in
Louisiana. Since then there have been some possibles - like
a hairdresser in California who though she did the
girlfriend's hair - but not much else. He's doing a great
job hiding. And the question is - how hard is the FBI
Is there a movie planned for Whitey's life?
There have actually been a couple of movie projects. Miramax
bought the rights to Black Mass, but recently announced that
they were dropping a project based on the book. Robert
Redford's production company is reportedly in pre-production
of a movie based more on the Bulger brothers' story. No news
yet on seeing Deadly Alliance on the big or small screen,
but I'm hopeful. I've had a few nibbles, but no bites.
How seriously do you think FBI is currently looking for
Honestly, not very. He's on the Top 10 list, but at various
times there have been only 1 or 2 agents assigned to find
him. FBI agents are very loyal to informants, so finding a
guy like Whitey is not going to be anyone's dream job there.
Plus he knows a lot of embarassing stuff - there are even
stories that he tape-recorded some of his conversations with
handlers like John Connolly and John Morris.
Even with the Connoly indictment, do you think the new FBI
Director will make radical changes and admit serius wrong
doing. Would he do something dramatic like apologize to the
families killed by mob informats or for the people thrown in
jail and give them all a big settlement
Hi WhiteWash. The suits against the FBI from victims of
Bulger and Flemmi now total over $1.3 billion - so with that
kind of money on the line, I don't think an apology or
settlement is coming down soon. As for the new Director,
other new directors have tried and failed to do the same
Do you think that the corruption at the FBI Boston office is
still going on at the level of the Whitey-era?
No. A lot of those people are gone now, and there is an
ongoing Justice Department Corruption Task Force
investigation into the office, so it would be pretty hard to
cover up that kind of malfeasance now. What is disheartening
is that some of the guys who were part of an earlier FBI
internal corruption investigation - which incredibly found
"no" corruption - are running the Boston office. I talk
about an old FBI saying in the book: "mess up, move up"
which means that the Bureau often hides people who do bad
things by giving them promotions.
I think the FBI's problems are systemic and ingrained in its
culture and can't be fixed by management changes. I think
the FBI needs to be broken up into several smaller agencies
that have a clearer sense of mission about would be easier
for the Justice Department to manage. The modern FBI does
too many things right now - and not many of them well,
I'm very interested to read your book!
Was it very hard to get people on the "inside" to cooperate
with you? Did you have a contract of anonymity for your
Some people would only talk to me on condition of anonymity
- some feared for their jobs, others for their lives. But
there was a core of very dedicated, very concerned former
FBI agents and others who felt it was an important enough
issue to come forward and talk.
What do you think the FBI hoped to gain by cooperating with
The FBI was trying to get the Italian-American Mafia, which
was the Justice Department's biggest priority in the 1970s
and 1980s. It was such a big deal, in large part because of
the positive publicity the "G-men" got from their war on the
Italian wiseguys, that they were willing to make deals with
killers like Bulger and Flemmi. Was it worth it? Bulger is
charged with killing 18 people - most while he was an
informant - read the book and you decide.
who is the head of the new england mob right now...is it the
Furtado family, which has been rumored in the boston globe?
It may be a misnomer to say that there even IS a NE mob at
this point. There are a lot of small factions and things are
It will probably never be like the good old days under
Raymond L.S. Patriarca and Gennaro Angiulo.
What is the evidence that Larry Sarhatt, Bob Fitzpatrick, or
any of the other Boston-FBI supervisors knew Connolly and
Morris were in too far with Bulger?
Hello Frank. Funny you should ask that question. There is
plenty of evidence in the FBI documents that were released
as part of the Flemmi-Salemme case in Boston's U.S. District
Court that show that FBI SAC's and ASAC's were constantly
dealing with problems related to crimes committed by Bulger
and Flemmi. Each time, they decided to keep them on as
informants instead of prosecuting them - thus perpetuating
the "Deadly Alliance."
Hello... Are there any other examples of relationships
similar to the Bulger/Connolly one in other FBI offices in
Yea, check out Chapter 5 in the book, it's called "The New
Untouchables." One example: There was a guy in New York
named Greg Scarpa who killed probably as many guys as Whitey
did. One day his fellow mobsters came to him and accused him
of being a rat, and told him to go out and kill someone to
prove he wasn't. He promptly did, and was able to keep
working for the FBI without suspicion.
Also, how did Bulger know Halloran was in town the day he
killed him? Does anybody besides Eddie Mack say that
Connolly relayed to Bulger that Halloran had called in to
FBI HQ that day?
Halloran was talking to the FBI office on the day he was
killed, there are reports of conversations between him and
agents. There is no other evidence that I know of, though,
that Connolly tipped off Bugler and Flemmi on the day of the
murder. John Morris said Connolly admitted telling Bulger
and Flemmi that Brian Halloran was going to implicate them
in a murder, though. Halloran was killed in 1982 on the
South Boston waterfront, that scene is the opening of Deadly
In your opinion, what are some other good reads in this area
(in addition to your book) that would be enjoyable?
After you buy my book, check out "Witness for the Dead" by
Mike Fredrickson, it's sort of a fictional account of the
whole thing. Joe Barboza's autobiography is a fun, scary
read too, but it's incredibly hard to find. Former FBI agent
Bill Roemer's books are also revealing about how the FBI
dealt with informants - although Roemer paints things in a
rosy light as you might expect.
The "mob" presence in Providence still feels strong. Do you
really think they broken into small, disorganized factions?
Maybe that was too strong. I meant disorganized across NE,
not in traditional strongholds like Providence, Revere, the
North End, etc. I meant that there is little in the way of
tight, regional control.
It's impossible to believe that Billy Bulger didn't know
what his brother was up to. Is there any evidence that Billy
There is no good evidence that Billy aided Whitey in
criminal activities, but Billy was certainly a mentor for
John Connolly, who was Whitey's active protector - so maybe
Billy was smart enough to stay one step removed. It's hard
to know. Billy is very smart and very connected - probably
too much so to not know a lot of the things his brother was
A truth seeker
Just how culpable are journalists in this story. For many
years reporters in Boston went along with the story that
Whitey was merely a Robin Hood. They also perpetrated the
myth that Whitey was useful in the fight against the LCN.
And Sean Flynn for example in Boston Magazine stated the
only reason why Connolly is being prosecuted is that the
"rules changed."How many bodies have to pile up before the
papers in Boston acknowledge their guilt?
The press can be held accountable for some of this, but if
it wasn't for the press, the FBI's relationship with Whitey
might still be going on. A couple of FBI agents, like ASAC
Bob Fitzpatrick, tried to end the relationship with Whitey
and had their own careers sabotaged for their trouble. But I
think it's telling that when John Morris wanted to finally
end the relationship in 1988, he didn't go to Washington, he
went to the Globe.
That's all for today's chat. Ralph has to run
Thanks for joining in sorry to those whose questions didn't
get answered. We got to as many as we could
Thanks everyone for participating in this chat. I hope you
enjoy the book. I am signing at the Globe Store in Downtown
Boston at 5 p.m. on Sept. 13th. More questions? Email me at