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Former star FBI agent is charged

Connolly alerted Bulger, indictment says

By Shelley Murphy and Judy Rakowsky, Globe Staff, 12/23/1999

In a stunning blow to the Boston office of the FBI, a former star agent was charged yesterday with committing crimes to protect his prized informants, including tipping off South Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger to a 1995 racketeering indictment so he could flee.

John J. Connolly Jr., the agent once lionized and lauded by his superiors for his skill at cultivating top-level informants such as Bulger and cohort Stephen Flemmi, was named, along with them, in a five-count federal indictment.

Connolly, 59, was charged with alerting Bulger and Flemmi to investigations, falsifying reports to hide their crimes, and funneling $7,000 in payoffs from them to his former supervisor, John Morris.

Looking nothing like the flamboyant agent who once helped collar Boston's most notorious Mafiosi, Connolly appeared in court early last evening, within hours of being arrested by FBI agents at his Lynnfield home, where he was suffering from the flu.

Gone were the trademark tailored suits, replaced by a gray sweat shirt, black jeans, and sneakers, the usually perfectly coiffed hair rumpled.

The indictment of Connolly came just as the five-year statute of limitations was about to run out on the alleged crime at the heart of the indictment: the tip to Bulger in January 1995 that he was about to be indicted, along with his Mafia cohorts, in a landmark racketeering indictment. Bulger has been a fugitive ever since.

Without that alleged crime, prosecutors would not have been able to build a racketeering case, since the statute of limitations on all the other alleged crimes had long since expired.

The indictment of Connolly, now an executive with Boston Edison Co., is the latest blow to the Boston office of the FBI, which has been rocked since allegations first surfaced more than two years ago that former agents may have crossed the line into criminality in their shadowy dealings with criminal informants.

He pleaded not guilty in US District Court in Boston to racketeering and obstruction of justice charges that allege he conspired with Bulger and Flemmi from 1975 to 1995 to protect them from prosecution.

Bulger fled five years ago on the eve of the January 1995 racketeering indictment and remains a fugitive. Flemmi has been jailed without bail since January 1995, awaiting trial in that case.

Facing reporters at a news conference minutes after Connolly's arraignment, Barry Mawn, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said, "I am somewhat saddened to learn of these actions and I am angered."

But he said the acts of a few should not be used to judge the many who put their lives on the line every day.

"These acts do not define today's FBI office or the past FBI office," said Mawn, who was not in charge of the Boston office during Connolly's tenure.

Connolly, who retired from the FBI in 1990 after 22 years, left the courthouse without comment after being released on a $200,000 unsecured bond by US Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler. But his attorney, R. Robert Popeo, accused prosecutors of making Connolly "a scapegoat."

"This indictment is nothing short of outrageous," Popeo said. "It will forever be a stain not only on the life of John Connolly, but on the reputation of the Department of Justice and the FBI."

Popeo said the case against Connolly flows from the earlier "ill-conceived" indictments of Bulger and Flemmi that led to the public disclosure that Bulger had been an FBI informant since 1975 and Flemmi since 1965.

During lengthy pretrial hearings last year, the FBI's cozy relationship with Bulger and Flemmi was exposed as US District Judge Mark L. Wolf considered Flemmi's request to dismiss the case.

Flemmi contended that the FBI assured them they could continue to commit crimes, short of murder, as long as they provided information about their Mafia rivals.

A parade of former FBI agents, underworld figures, and extortion victims, as well as Flemmi, testified at the hearings. But Connolly refused to take the stand, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

In numerous press interviews, however, he said Flemmi and Bulger were given permission to continue their gambling and loansharking operations while acting as informants, but not the blanket immunity Flemmi claimed to have.

It was Morris, who was granted immunity from prosecution, who offered some of the most damning testimony against Connolly during hearings in federal court last year that unmasked the alliance among Connolly and Morris and the criminals they had recruited as informants.

Morris admitted pocketing $7,000 in payoffs from Bulger and Flemmi and claimed Connolly delivered two payments of $1,000 each, one tucked in the bottom of a case of expensive wine that Connolly delivered to Morris in the garage below the FBI's Boston offices, according to Morris.

Connolly rebutted Morris's allegations at the time, saying: "In my entire career with the FBI I never compromised my personal or professional integrity. If Mr. Morris did so, shame on him."

Much of the evidence that emerged during the hearings was pursued by a team of out-of-town FBI agents brought in to investigate the conduct of Connolly and other agents. The indictment was returned by a grand jury in US District Court in Worcester.

US Attorney Donald K. Stern and Mawn stressed that it was at their request that a task force was convened to investigate the allegations of FBI misconduct.

The resulting five-count indictment charges Connolly, Bulger, and Flemmi each with two counts of racketeering; Connolly with two counts of obstruction of justice; and Flemmi with one count of obstruction of justice.

As part of the racketeering charges, Connolly is accused of taking part in the bribes to Morris and also with ignoring the hostile takeover of a South Boston liquor store in 1984 by Bulger and Flemmi.

Just a week after opening the store, Stephen and Julie Rakes were allegedly forced to sell it to Bulger, who gave them a bag stuffed with $67,000 in cash and told them to "go away."

Julie Rakes's uncle, then Boston police Detective Joseph Lundbohm, testified last year that he told Connolly about the shakedown, but Connolly failed to pursue the case. Instead, it's alleged that Connolly warned Bulger about Lundbohm's overture.

Connolly is also charged with warning reputed New England Mafia boss Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme during a 1994 meeting that he was being investigated by a grand jury along with Bulger and Flemmi.

Connolly is accused of tipping Flemmi, and by extension Bulger, to the looming indictment in early January 1995.

But Popeo said there was no evidence that Connolly had tipped them off, and, in fact, Flemmi had testfied that it was Morris who had tipped him off.

Popeo said yesterday that it is apparent that Salemme, a codefendant in the 1995 case who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges earlier this month, testified before the grand jury that indicted Connolly.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/23/1999.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

Whitey Bulger
Stephen Flemmi
Frank Salemme
Kevin Weeks
John Martorano
John Connolly
John Morris

Photo gallery
Whitey sightings
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1 9 8 8
The Bulger mystique
A look at Boston's famous brothers, William and Whitey.

1 9 9 5
The story of Whitey's fall
How investigators brought down the elusive criminal.

1 9 9 8
Whitey & the FBI
The relationship between Bulger and Boston's law men.

1 9 9 8
Whitey's life on the run
The fugitive mobster's relentless travels across the country.

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