At odds with the past

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / July 22, 1998
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In 1988, Whitey Bulger's special relationship with the FBI -- an informant who was handled by FBI agent John Connolly -- was disclosed publicly for the first time in a Globe story.

During interviews at the time and afterward, three key federal law enforcement officials challenged the account: Connolly; Jeremiah T. O'Sullivan, the region's top organized-crime prosecutor; and James Ahearn, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office. The comments the three officials made a decade ago are now sharply contradicted by this year's release of FBI files and court testimony.

Jeremiah T. O'Sullivan

Then: "I don't buy it," said O'Sullivan in 1988, when asked about Bulger being an FBI informant. "I've heard the stories. I don't know it to be true."

Now: FBI records, testimony, and interviews suggest that, as far back as 1979, agents -- including Connolly -- discussed Bulger with O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan attended meetings in 1980 with other officials to review the FBI's handling of Bulger, and one agent testified that O'Sullivan urged the FBI not to close out Bulger.

The records and testimony notwithstanding, O'Sullivan last year insisted to FBI investigators that he was never officially told that Bulger was an FBI informant while he was a prosecutor.

John Connolly

Then: In 1990, two years after the Globe story, Connolly sought out a top Globe editor to denounce the coverage and to insist that, even though he knew who Whitey Bulger was, he had never talked to him.

Now: FBI records, court testimony by other agents, and Connolly's own public comments indicate that Connolly has met and talked with Bulger over a hundred times since 1975.

James Ahearn

Then: "That is absolutely untrue," Ahearn said in 1988, when asked about Bulger having a longstanding relationship with the FBI. "We specifically deny that there has been special treatment of this individual."

Now: Previously-secret FBI files show that Ahearn was intimately involved in defending Connolly and the FBI's use of Bulger. Less than a year after public comments denying the ties between the FBI and Bulger, Ahearn in early 1989 wrote a confidential memo to the FBI director trumpeting Bulger "as the most important organized-crime informant for many years."

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