If Connolly is so guilty, can the FBI be so innocent?
By Joan Vennochi, Globe Columnist, 1/25/2000
A few years ago, I had dinner with John Connolly, the former FBI agent who
was recently indicted for allegedly getting too close to the mob. No kidding -
he ordered Steak Mafia, a Tecce's special, and spun stories about a world the
rest of us know only from the movies. The stories were funny, fascinating and
frightening. On the drive home, I remember wondering: is this Connolly a good
guy, a bad guy, or both?
Today, the government is doing its best to eliminate all ambiguity from
what we think of John Connolly. The FBI agent who retired as a hero in 1990 is
now being portrayed as a rogue cop, so evil he would let his informants get
away with murder - and so petty, he would hit them up for a free refrigerator.
Connolly may be as bad as he now looks. But if he is so guilty, can the
people for whom he worked really be so innocent?
I doubt it.
Connolly testified under oath that the FBI signed up two prized informants,
James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen Flemmi, in order to destroy the Italian mob.
He testified that in return for their information, the FBI authorized Bulger
and Flemmi to continue illegal activities that included loansharking and
gambling. Connolly was their official FBI handler. [ Correction: Published on 01/26/2000: Joan Vennochi's column yesterday
mistakenly reported that John Connolly had testified under oath about an FBI
deal involving informants James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen Flemmi. According
to his lawyer, Connolly had merely told the FBI's Office of Professional
Responsibility about the deal. ]
Did Bulger and Flemmi go beyond the para meters of their deal and commit
murder? Three bodies dug up in Dorchester this month make what was always very
possible, very real.
Did Connolly know about these murders? Did he, in fact, reveal to Bulger
and Flemmi the names of other informants who might implicate them in crimes,
leading to at least two murders? Then - five years after Connolly left the
bureau - did he tip off his ex-informants to their impending indictments,
allowing Whitey to flee Boston on Jan. 10, 1995?
Connolly denies all such allegations. At any trial, the government would
have to prove he crossed a line into criminality. Maybe it will. In the
meantime, it is exploiting the hardly secret conflicts in Connolly's life to
make the possibility seem as real as those recently unearthed bodies.
The ex-agent grew up in the same South Boston housing project as Whitey
Bulger, the criminal, and his brother, Bill, the former Senate president.
Whitey grew up to control Boston's organized crime scene and Bill grew up to
control Boston's political scene.
Bill Bulger was Connolly's mentor. He encouraged Connolly to think, read
and go beyond Southie to Boston College and the FBI. Whitey Bulger bought
Connolly a now-famous ice cream cone and rescued him from a neighborhood
beating when he was a boy. Years later, he became Connolly's most valuable
informant, helping Connolly make his own reputation, as he broke down the
Are we to believe that the FBI didn't know all that, when it made Connolly
the go-between for Whitey and Flemmi?
Connolly's superiors made a deal with the devil; they cherished Connolly's
connections to the devil when it suited their purposes.
In their hearts, Connolly and his superiors knew enough of the truth about
their informants, even if they did not literally know where they were burying
bodies. They knew they were bad guys, used to get other bad guys. Everyone -
including much of the city's business and political elite - understood that
Whitey was a special bad guy, with a brother who reigned on Beacon Hill.
So why should Connolly alone pay the price for the FBI's deal?
The same FBI that brought us Waco and Ruby Ridge now wants us to believe
the corruption starts and stops with one cop. It will do anything to advance
that mantra. Everything - from Connolly's arrest before Christmas in front of
his children, to the dredging up of human bones from the frozen Dorchester
dirt - is designed to shred his reputation and break him psychologically.
Yet even as his former colleagues work in concert to destroy his
credibility, they raise troubling questions about their own. The Bulger-Flemmi
arrangement they endorsed was incestuous enough to make anyone wonder where
Connolly's loyalties began and where they ended.
If it made me wonder after one meal in the North End - how could it not do
the same for our crack FBI?
This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 1/25/2000.
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